B&K Foundry celebrates five-year milestone

New core process breakthrough

“When we opened up our greenfield foundry in Chamdor, Krugersdorp, Gauteng servicing the stainless steel castings market five years ago we never envisaged that we would be in the position that we are in today,” said owner Rocky Bernardes.

“Since then we have increased our staff compliment over 260 percent, moved 70 kilometres to a facility near Carletonville and introduced some new and exciting innovations into our production processes,” continued Rocky.


Various castings in different stages of fettling and finishing

“When we started B&K five years ago our research indicated that there was more than enough room and call for a new foundry to operate in the stainless steel castings market and time has proved this to be true. We are now firmly ensconced as a reliable supplier of stainless steel castings.”

“However the focus of the foundry is not centred entirely around stainless steel castings. We are also casting a fair amount of other metals every month. For example we now cast nearly two tons of aluminium every month. Our mix also includes SG, cast iron, bronzes, steel and high chrome, and between all the metals we cast up to 60 tons a month.”

Bernardes (51) has been in the foundry business for most of his working life, starting off as a furnace operator in 1988 with Metallurgical Processors. He moved through the various production departments before joining Rely Precision Castings in 1994. It was not long before he got the urge to move into sales, which he did do in 1996, and has remained in the sales and marketing field since then except that he now has his own manufacturing company.


There is a family influence in the staff compliment. Standing are Joaquim and Linda Bernardes, Eddie Holton (Linda’s father) and seated, Rocky Bernardes

“It was always my dream to open up my own foundry and after the research showed that there was the need I decided to go for it.”

“Starting your own business is exciting but it can also be tricky because of the unknown. However if you are focussed and just get on with it you can be successful. We initially employed 11 staff and this has now risen to 40. Our monthly output was relatively small at 10 tons but this has grown with new clients regularly being signed up and the acquisition of another foundry two years ago,” said Rocky.

“We needed to grow the business and to do this we would need to increase the size of our production facility. We were also being hamstrung with high rentals in Chamdor so we cast our search further afield. Fortunately for us Magma Foundry was available to purchase and once we had done our due diligence we did not hesitate to purchase the business from Byron Christos who is also a client of ours now.”


Foundry operates three inverters and five bodies in its induction-melting department. These range between 150 and 500 kilograms and the foundry can accommodate castings up to one ton. The capacity at the moment is 200 tons a month. Bossing this department is Carel Minnie, who has been in the foundry industry for 50 years. Each of the metals the foundry uses has its own dedicated body and ladles so there is no contamination

“There were a couple of factors that influenced our decision. As I mentioned the rental in Chamdor was exorbitant and with virtually the same amount of monthly payments we could acquire our own 50-hectare property that had 12 500m² under roof available. This is in comparison to the 2 500m² that we were operating from.”

“Another big factor was the property had its own 6.5 KVA internal sub-station and transformer, which gives us more than enough power.”

“Magma Foundry had been operating for about 12 years before we took it over. The foundry was started by Byron and his daughter Nadine, to supply castings for their engineering business that manufactures and operates blasting, waterjet, drilling, scrubbing and other related equipment for the mining industry.”

“The process the foundry was operating under was the V-process or vacuum forming process, using a furane sand system and an oil-fired furnace for melting. The plant was fully mechanised and even had two robots to manipulate the 1.5 by 1.5 boxes that it was limited to. This did not suit our jobbing foundry process so we implemented the necessary changes, keeping all the mechanisation where possible. We also changed to an alkaline phenolic sand system.”

“The foundry was casting aluminium and cast iron, producing components for internal use. We have continued to cast these components for the previous owners, as well as securing outside orders.”

Core process breakthrough

“However one of the main focuses of the foundry is to manufacture components for the pump and valve industry. This was the focus of B&K from the beginning but the foundry industry is a tough business. Surviving, let alone achieving, long-term growth is challenging. Therefore we are not limited solely to these industries. Consequently we have actively added mining, petrochemical, power generation and general engineering castings to the mix.”


B&K Foundry maintain the patterns for clients

“We knew that if we wanted to be successful with our clients involved in manufacturing pumps and valves we would have to offer them some advantage, as well as achieving a benefit for our business.”

“Metalcasting is a slow-growth sector overall. While castings are important to society, their importance relative to everything else has been diminishing. The practice of transforming molten metal into a cast metal part has been around since the pre-industrial age. Finding and participating in new processes for metalcasting is limited because the fundamental basics will always stay the same and a revolutionary change in this process is not on the horizon. There have been improvements in the machinery and consumables used for metalcasting and more recently analysis of metals and process simulation have evolved. Getting cleaner metal into the moulds or using exotic or new materials for castings have also been developed.”

“As a result we started research and development on improving the quality of the cores we use, three years ago. We were looking for any advantage that we could gain in this area because there will always be a demand for pumps and valves, which are made up of a number of different components. Depending on the end use of the pump or valve different requirements are specified for the castings.”


A mould that has been prepared

“The demand by these manufacturers for impellers, for example, to be formed into intricate and precise shapes is increasing. Therefore coremaking is under tremendous pressure.”

“We experimented with all types of ceramics, synthetics and even chamotte but none would give us the strength needed on say 3mm thick intricate veins when we cast. Finally we found a sand that was being used in another industry process that looked promising. Many trials later we believe we now have a significant advantage in this area, so much so that one of our major clients has had their patterns sent to us from Europe and are now in turn exporting product back to Europe.”

“To put it simply the sand, which we import from the US, is elastic and has a memory or goes back to shape. More importantly it does not give off gases, gives the core incredible strength and breaks down easily.”

“This has been a significant breakthrough for us but it is not the only area where we have advanced in our production processes.”

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software

“ERP is by no means a new addition to the industrial toolbox. Among manufacturers generally, it has been the standard software tool for efficient production for decades. ERP systems automatically pull together a company’s manufacturing, logistics, distribution, shipping, processing, procurement, and sales information into a single software package and coordinate all that data for quality production intelligence. It is hard to imagine bringing any product to market today without it.”

“The manufacturing environment is simply too complex and involves too many components for uncoordinated efforts to stand a chance. ERP is the central system connecting all of the components necessary to get a product produced as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.”


A partial view of the foundry with 10 ton an hour pivot continuous mixer supplied by Endeco in the foreground

“Among metalcasters, though, the penetration of this software tool and the centralised, connected mindset it demands, has been relatively slow.”

“At its heart, ERP is simply a piece of software to collect and sort information — it contains a custom assembly of auto-fed modules that monitor everything from intake to sales, to provide reports that help companies do business more intelligently. Individually tailor made reports are easy to construct.”

“But, in my experience, you have that sort of family-owned mentality in foundries that have that ‘this is the way I’ve always done things’ mindset, and they’re not necessarily anxious to hear from someone that they’re doing it wrong. I know we were one of those until we installed our Foundrysoft.net ERP software.”

“In today’s market, however, there is no room for such foot dragging. There are so many metalcasters out there that quite literally run a business on the back of an envelope and a few spreadsheets. The need to get good information to improve the bottom line is crucial. Driving value in the foundry is fundamental today and foundries need to be in control of their costs, especially with the rising electricity and scrap metal prices.”


B&K Foundry supply castings to the ferrochrome mines

“The need for modern systems to meet that need is available and fortunately we grasped it when we met with representatives from Foundrysoft.net towards the end of last year.”

“They took seven weeks to install the software and load the data and now we are able to provide real-time intelligence on production metrics to show the location of every piece in production, what every member of the staff is doing, the quality of every piece, and what is happening on the plant floor to meet each order.”

“We have employed someone dedicated to inputting the data. By inputting material costs, bills of materials, bills of design and breaking the process down through each segment of operation and calculating its cost by area, ERP takes care of what it is costing us to produce castings.”

“The awareness of what we are actually doing on the floor and where we stand financially opens the door to improvement. You thought you were making 10% on one part, for example, but when you finally see the data, it turns out you’re not. Then, we start working on what we have to do to make it actually happen.”


The coremaking department, where the significant developments have taken place, is headed up by John Zandberg, who also has 50 years experience in the foundry industry

“ERP tells us the efficiencies of our people and the machines we are running. We can review that on a daily basis to see if there is something that an employee needs to do to pick up production, so not only do we check the percent of their performance, but if their performance is not at the standard, we can go help them.”

“You can’t just continue to raise prices. Before you raise prices, you’ve got to do everything you can internally to contain costs. Because ERP systems show scrap levels and delivery dates, and summarise performance, it really undresses you and tells you what kind of performance your company has. Doing so unlocks the complexity of costs and allows foundries to price goods intelligently.”

“I can’t tell you how much to charge for a product if I don’t know what it costs me to make it. This level of insight tightens up the entire process, tying any deviance from the standard to the bottom line. In other words it gives us complete traceability and awareness of our company. More importantly once we start implementing ISO we will have all the paperwork and systems needed already in place.”


The company does not have its own machining division. It has access to these facilities from the company that they purchased the foundry from

“The Foundrysoft.net software has been developed in India and covers the needs for small, medium and large foundries for all sections such as marketing, manufacturing, engineering, material, QA, finance, accounts and HR. They have installed 280 systems in India but we are the first in Africa.”

The foundry

B&K Foundry operates three inverters and five bodies in its induction-melting department. These range between 150 and 500 kilograms and the foundry can accommodate castings up to one ton. The capacity at the moment is 200 tons a month. Bossing this department is Carel Minnie, who has been in the foundry industry for 50 years. Each of the metals the foundry uses has its own dedicated body and ladles so there is no contamination.

The coremaking department, where the significant developments have taken place, is headed up by John Zandberg, who also has 50 years experience in the foundry industry.

There are also all the other normal operations including a continuous sand mixer, three spectrometers (the company also employs a dedicated metallurgist), fettling, patternmaking and a sand reclamation plant. There are two top-hat heat treatment furnaces and although the company does not have its own machining division it has access to these facilities from the company that they purchased the foundry from, which is situated adjacent to B&K Foundry.


Castings supplied by B&K Foundry waiting to be machined

Although most of the production is focussed on supplying local clients who in turn export, the company has exported castings to countries in Africa and Europe.

There is a family influence in the staff compliment. Rocky’s wife Linda takes care of the accounts and son Joaquim works on the production floor. Linda’s father Eddie Holton is the maintenance manager.

For further details contact B&K Foundry on TEL: + 27 (18) 789 8001 or visit www.bkfoundry.co.za