Capitalising on your opportunities

Manufacturing products and components for use in harsh environments and challenging applications is not a task every machining company relishes. It becomes even more of a significant challenge if you are supplying the demanding mining industry and your competition is not just the local supplier down the road but rather multi-nationals that have been in the business for many more years than your company.

Additionally, the face of mining operations has changed dramatically over the last decade. In South Africa this is especially true as the mining industry is constantly shrinking due to costs and other external pressures. High costs, low commodity prices, labour strife and falling productivity have all taken their toll. South Africa has most of the world’s deepest (and historically richest) gold mines. They are clustered some 70km south-west of Johannesburg. The deeper they go, the more expensive and difficult the work of extracting the ore becomes. Most of these mines are reaching a mature phase and the cost of extracting the gold may soon exceed its value. It is no surprise then that for mining companies worldwide the brief is now to maximise processes and reduce costs.

The new Doosan Puma SMX 3100S mill-turn multi-tasking machine that B & O Machining has recently purchased. Machining specialist Stephan van der Linde went specifically to Korea for training on the machine

B & O Machining has always been in the business of supplying products to the mining industry in South Africa. Established in 1990 by Pieta Badenhorst and the late Gert Oelofse, the company manufactured, amongst other products, valves for hydraulic support systems.

“Our experience in manufacturing drill bits for the mining industry originated back in 1998 when we started to manufacture taper drill bit bodies for some of the major role players in the industry,” explained Managing Director Otto Coetzer and the son-in-law of Badenhorst.

“The company’s experience in a similar type of machining dates back before that, though. For a number of years the company machined the valve bosses that were used on the Cadac LPG gas cylinders or bottles as they are often referred to in South Africa. In those days you used a special key to open and close the valve. This design has now changed and does not require the key application.”

The new Doosan Puma SMX 3100S mill-turn multi-tasking machine has been purchased specifically to machine DTH drill bits, a new product that B & O Machining has recently begun to manufacture

The new DTH drill bits will be manufactured in two versions – a 165mm and a 171mm diameter in QL60 and DHD 360 shanks

“At one stage we were machining over 1 500 valve bosses a day. To accomplish this we purchased a Quaser CNC machining center. We then designed and manufactured our own fixtures and jigs and we turned the machine into a multi-station machine so that we could machine and drill more than one valve at a time. If we did not do this we would not have been able to supply the quantities that our client required.”

“Working with Cadac did give us the experience and open up avenues to other similar machining opportunities. One of them was to machine and drill the blank drill bit bodies for a multi-national that was supplying drilling tools and bits to the mineral exploration and mining industries.”

“It took us six months to get approval and start supplying. That was in 1998. But once we were in production it did lead to us being approached by other multi-nationals, supplying similar types of products to the same industries that had local manufacturing setups and required subcontracting suppliers to machine components for their final product. We could do this as the components we were machining for each company were different in design and all the clients were comfortable with this fact. Besides, we were doing the various machining operations on the blanks and were not involved in manufacturing and assembling the final product.”

Directors Pieta Badenhorst with Otto Coetzer

B & O Machining manufactures a range of percussion drilling products. The product range includes taper and threaded drill bits (4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 button), 22 and 25 Hex taper drill steel, drifter rods, extension rods, shank adaptors and threaded couplings

“As a result of our improving capabilities, we were eventually awarded contracts from one of these multi-nationals to manufacture the complete drill bits for them. This required further investment to give us additional capacity and we also upgraded our capabilities with 4th axis rotary tables to accurately do the button hole drilling.

“The contracts we were winning involved high volumes – we were processing up to 80 000 bits a month. Although the margins were low it was a stepping-stone for us. We had taken the business into a new manufacturing sector and we like to think of that period as the first development phase in the growth of the company.”

This period of growth in B & O Machining also required innovative and creative thinking from management. Pieta Badenhorst was the entrepreneur and Otto Coetzer, who had joined the company in 1997 at the young age of 28, was the engineer. Coetzer had studied Industrial Engineering at the University of Pretoria, qualifying with a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) (Honours). He did his thesis at one of the international automotive OEMs that has local assembly and manufacturing facilities in South Africa. As a result the OEM snapped him up once he finished his degree.

“I worked in the engine assembly plant, first as their quality engineer and then as their production manager. It was a wonderful time for me but I reached my ceiling within the company, in terms of the hierarchy, quickly. I learnt plenty about production planning and management in an assembly situation, or Lego building as I like to call it, but nothing about actual manufacturing,” explained Coetzer.

B & O Machining has 26 CNC machines on the production floor. This number is made up of 12 lathes and 14 machining centers

The machine shop is split up into two divisions

“I realised I would not be satisfied if I did not explore and experience this side of engineering. Unfortunately in late 1994, Gert Oelofse was severely injured in a helicopter crash and was unable to continue working. So when Pieta offered me the opportunity at the company to help him grow the business I did not hesitate accepting it.”

“My initial period with B & O Machining allowed me to gain some insight into the actual manufacturing of components, using CNC machines. I also took the opportunity to learn how to use our CAD/CAM machining software programme Mastercam. This experience allowed us to approach our first client in the rock drill bit industry and thankfully we were successful.”

During the period of 2001 to 2006 B & O Machining experienced exponential growth but also some setbacks. The first of these setbacks came when one of the multi-nationals decided to stop local manufacture and assembly and rather imported all the products. A Further major development was that our major customer undergone had a total restructuring process internationlly and sold off all its local assets to a BBBEE-enterprise.

Fortunately for the company another international manufacturer of impact drills designed for rock drilling in South Africa’s underground mines decided to introduce flameproof electric drills and try and oust the familiar pneumatic rock drills that had dominated the industry for a century.

B & O Machining have recently installed a laser marking machine

B & O Machining are very adept at making their own jigs and fixtures. This is an example of multi-loading in a milling jig

“They approached us waxing lyrical about the productivity, energy and health benefits that the electric drills bring with them. They claimed they were responding to market demand for more efficiency at the rock face as the South African mines had to go deeper to extract the ore and at those depths, pneumatic jack hammers were not as effective due to the loss pneumatic pressure.”

“They wanted us to design and manufacture drill bits for them and we decided to go with the venture. However, the electric drill encountered a huge amount of resistance in the mining industry and unfortunately was not successful. The company stopped marketing the product in South Africa and again we were left in a precarious position.”

Second wave of innovation
“These setbacks led us to the second wave of innovation at B & O Machining. We took the decision to manufacture our own range of rock drill bits for use on pneumatic rock drills as well as threaded bits used in mechanized drilling .We further extended our range to the manufacturing of other associated equipment such as taper and threaded drill rods, shanks, couplings, adaptors and other accessories.”

“We dubbed the range “Vula”. The drill bits were designed as a result of knowledge gained through experience combined with the latest engineering materials that have pushed the evolution of conventional designs, incorporating innovative design concepts coupled with the advances in manufacturing technology to respond to the hardest rock drilling market.”

B & O Machining have also recently purchased an Okuma LU3000 EX-M 4-Axis lathe that has a powerful main spindle and dual servo turrets capable of simultaneous, synchronised control. The machine has a maximum turning diameter (upper) of 340mm and maximum turning diameter (lower) of 220mm. The Okuma LU3000 EX was specifically designed to machine the “rope” style threads very accurately and more efficiently than conventional CNC lathes

B & O Machining has two 5-axis Haas VF 5 vertical machining centers

“Likewise through our experience gained from dealing with the multi-nationals we identified the possibility for further improvements in the drill bits, and some of these unique improvements like the spiral and straight flushing grooves running the full length of the body have been patented. The button fitting process was also re-engineered and we believe it to be superior to that of any other manufacturer.”

“This second wave of innovation for the company also resulted in a second wave of capital equipment purchases that included more and larger CNC machines. As part of this upgrade we purchased an Okuma LU3000 EX was is specifically designed to machine the “rope” style threads very accurately and more efficiently than conventional CNC lathes.”

“It also resulted in a second wave of enthusiasm for both Pieta and myself. I was the engineering man and I was left to make sure that the manufacturing took place. Pieta was the marketing man and he took the job very seriously. He had to convince the local market that we were serious players offering a quality product. I still remember him rushing off to the various mines and deep underground testing the product so that he could convince the clients that our products were up to international standard.”

Third wave of innovation – open cast mining
“The history of South African mining has mostly been centred around deep underground mines but this is changing now as the cost of extracting the ore from those depths is increasing. There is now a shift worldwide to open cast mining. In fact most new mining projects in Southern Africa are now open cast. As a result suppliers like ourselves have to adapt to these developments.”

A rotary chuck for milling bodies on the 5-axis Haas VF 5

Shot peening machine for drill rods

“Increasingly the mine owners are also looking at costs such as energy expenditure, and like many other industries in South Africa they have been exposed to cheap imports from countries such as China.”

“With open cast mining down-the-hole drilling is now the preferred method of rock drilling. A down-the-hole drill, usually called DTH by most professionals, is basically a powerful pneumatic hammer screwed on the bottom of a drill string. The fast hammer action breaks hard rock into small flakes and dust and is blown clear by the air exhaust from the DTH hammer. The DTH hammer is one of the fastest ways to drill hard rock. Now smaller portable drillcat drilling rigs with DTH hammers can drill as fast as much larger truck rigs with this newer technology.”

“Cost savings are also realised with this technology because energy transfer is via the drill bit rather than via the whole drill string, which is the case with the ‘top-hammer’ pneumatic drills. Much higher efficiencies are also realised because of this technology.”

Heat treated bodies awaiting drilling

Product after button fitting

“B & O Machining has had to adapt and we have just started manufacturing our first DTH drill bits which is different in size and design as compared to the ‘top-hammer’ drill bits that we manufacture. We will keep on manufacturing these drill bits as deep underground mining is not going to go away in the foreseeable future but we have to keep abreast with the market and develop new products.”

“Initially we are going to manufacture two sizes of DTH bits –165mm and a 171mm diameter in both QL60 and DHD360 shank styles.. We believe that these two versions cover virtually 80% of the market requirements.”

“We have designed the new products using the latest SolidWorks Premium software and after careful testing and evaluation we can now release the products. To the best of our knowledge, we believe that we are the only company manufacturing these drill bits locally – the rest are imported.”

“The carbide buttons are actually the ones doing all the work in fracturing and grinding up the solid rocks and this is why we have worked very closely with Powder Industries, also a local manufacturer, to develop our specially formulated carbide buttons.”

Doosan Puma SMX 3100S mill-turn multi-tasking machine
“With the introduction of our new range we have again invested in new manufacturing equipment. We have purchased a Doosan Puma SMX 3100S mill-turn, multi-axis, multi-tasking machine, which integrates the capabilities of a vertical machining center and a horizontal turning center into one platform.”

“The Puma SMX3100 features a 12” chuck with 102mm of bar capacity, can machine parts up to 1525 mm in length and 660 mm in diameter, the X1-axis travel is 630 mm, the Z1-axis travel is 1585 mm and the Y-axis is 230 mm and the rapid traverse, X1, Z1 & Y: 50/50/36 m/min.”

A view of one of the machine shops

Rotary Indexer for drilling

“Although there are many Doosan Puma machines in South Africa this is the first of this model to be installed locally. Included in our package was sending our machining specialist, Stephan van der Linde to Korea for training and this has helped us to integrate our latest Mastercam2017 machining package with the machine from day one. The machine was only installed in February this year.”

“With the addition of these machines we now have 26 CNC machines on the production floor. This number is made up of 12 lathes and 14 machining centers.”

South African manufacturing
“We are now well positioned to utilise our manufacturing capabilities to their full extent and we certainly believe in local manufacture and in exporting. The rest of Africa, including the SADC region, has its challenges but at the same time great possibilities for us to export our products. Currently we only export 30% of our production and we want to take that to at least 50% but only through growth. To do that we have to open up those export opportunities.”

“We are now in a stronger position thanks to our opposition companies and previous clients of ours at the time. If they had not decided to cut back on their local manufacturing activities in South Africa we would never have been forced out of our comfort zone and had the opportunity to develop our own range of products.

Today the running of the company is undertaken by Otto Coetzer with Pieta Badenhorst always supportive in an advisory capacity. The company employs 46 staff and occupies 1 600m² of space in Apex Industrial Sites, Benoni, Gauteng and is currently looking to acquire more land so that it can expand.

For further details contact B & O Machining on TEL: 011 845 3031