Fedatech Mining & General Precision Engineers grows with the changing of the guard

Like any family-run business, when it comes to one generation letting go to allow a new one to step in, there are always going to be interesting dynamics and challenges to overcome. However, when handing down the family machine shop it does not have to be as complex as a Swiss-turned component if everybody is on the same page and understands and trusts each other.

There is usually a common statement of: “The big fear I had in my life when I took over the running of the business was that I was going to let my dad down. You know, fail. It’s a scary feeling to think you failed,” that is associated with most of these situations. No one said building a company is easy. To keep it going and growing it, once the new generation or owners have taken over, is even harder.

Like many other engineering companies in the metalworking industry, Fedatech Mining & General Precision Engineers’ primary focus is very different today as compared to when it started in 1980. Fernando Ferriera had qualified as a fitter and turner and had over 10 years of work experience before he ventured out on his own.

Installed in August 2023 was a heavy-duty box-way Leadwell LTC-35CXLM driven tool turning center, supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools

Like many others Ferriera also started small – working from the garage at the family home – before turning the weekend business into a fully-fledged business. Ferriera was supplementing his income by making burglar bars for family and friends. The success of his endeavours required help and family friend David Valente was more than willing. Conversation while cutting, bending and welding round bar led to opening a business together. Valente, who had no idea what he wanted to do with his life work and career-wise, was 18 at the time and Ferriera was 13 years his senior.

Fortunately for the two there was an association with someone who worked at a major international company that manufactured equipment and provided support, parts, and consumables for the global mining and cement industries. The company needed help with machining of certain components because of the lack of capacity. This set them on the road to a long term engagement not only with the company but also with the mining industry.

“We weren’t exactly entrepreneurs as they are referred to in many cases. We were hands on and had a will to run our own business and be successful. Nevertheless, like entrepreneurs we had to juggle many roles and face countless setbacks. Overcoming the self-doubt moments and the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship did not even cross our minds. We were oblivious to all the distractions they talk about today. Our objective was to get the work in, process what had to be done and then get it back to the client,” said Valente, who is still fully involved with the business.”

Currently being installed is a You Ji vertical ram-type turning lathe that is built for large, heavy part machining. The VTL-2000, which is being installed by Machine Tool Promotions

Refurbishing of mining equipment is important to Fedatech and it does contribute significantly to the projects that they are engaged in

Founding partner and the driving force behind the machining and mechanical aspects of the company because of his training and abilities, Fernando Ferriera, retired five years ago. Valente had no formal artisan training and learned all that he knows about machining and fabrication from Ferriera. He had to, as he says, because they were hands-on and operated the machines ourselves.

“Our willingness to go the extra mile allowed us to gain respect and trust in the market and this soon led to more opportunities. We still do work for our first client and have concentrated on one of their areas of expertise – mining,” explained Valente.

“All our work is done for product that is generally working in tough and extreme conditions, whether it be manufacturing new or refurbishing products and components. You can’t lock us into one area or industry. Rather we refer to it as being involved at the plant and process related level. And we are not solution providers. We are a medium to heavy mechanical engineering facility that specialises in manufacturing high-quality mechanical parts and equipment.”

“Mining is important to us and it does contribute significantly to the projects that we are engaged in with clients. However, we are also regularly engaged with companies involved in power generation, petrochemical, steel manufacturing, pulp and paper and water treatment.”

“Drill rigs, dozers, excavators, tracks, under carriages, shovels and frames are just some of the equipment and products that we work on regularly. From small to large components requiring a range of turning and milling operations we have equipment that can machine these components, whether it be machining new components or refurbishing existing components. The industries that we work in are robust industries and the equipment used will require wear components to be replaced regularly and of course it will be to OEM spec. We generally will be supplied with drawings and we will manufacture to spec.”

Tracks that have been refurbished ready for delivery

The company also represents Italian company Berco Track Systems and it has its own hydraulic PT 350 track press

Although the company began operating with rented conventional lathes and mills it was one of the early adopters of CNC equipment in South Africa. Already back in 1993 it acquired a Mazak M5 CNC turning lathe and has regularly invested in new CNC equipment since then.

Today the company has 9 CNC machines on the floor and the inventory includes two large DN Solutions Puma mill turn machines that allows for 750mm diameter and 3 250mm length machining, a DN Solutions Mynx machining center for smaller components, a big SMTL vertical boring machine, a large horizontal boring machine and a Vtec gantry machining center.

Latest CNC machine arrivals
Installed in August 2023 was a heavy-duty box-way Leadwell LTC-35CXLM driven tool turning center,
supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools. The machine has a 430mm turning diameter, maximum turning length of 4 000mm, spindle speed of 10 – 2 000rpm, motor power of 30(40)kW and a X axis travel of 215mm+25mm.

Currently being installed is a You Ji vertical ram-type turning lathe that is built for large, heavy part machining. The VTL-2000, which is being installed by Machine Tool Promotions, features a heavy Meehanite cast iron construction, rigid, extra-large box ways, and large diameter pre-tensioned ballscrews. All mating surfaces are coated with Turcite-B and then hand scraped for perfect fit and alignment.

The VTL-2000 machine is robust and suitable for demanding applications, has a table size of 2 000mm by 2 000mm, maximum swing of 2 500mm, cutting height of 1 600mm, features a symmetrical base/column design with moveable cross rails in programmable 200mm increments, has a table load of 10 000kgs and the machine itself weighs 49 000kgs.

New order, new systems, new business
Fedatech Mining & General Precision Engineers has built up a favourable reputation with its clients through hard work and service and this was because from the beginning both Ferriera and Valente were involved in virtually every aspect of the business. They needed to be because there were no extra resources for employing a receptionist, debit clerk or even a driver. In time the company would build up resources and being a family business Ferriera’s two sons would join the company soon after leaving school.

Fedatech will refurbish tracks used in the mining industry

Equipment arrives for refurbishing

Elder brother Marco (48) has been with the company for over 25 years and is now the CEO and younger brother Benjamin (45) has been with the company for virtually the same time. Both joined the company as apprentices and started off sweeping the floors. Both don’t have an artisan qualification but they do have something more valuable – their father as a mentor. And of course, they now have many years of experience behind them.

After graduating as floor sweepers, the brothers learned to operate the machines and subsequently programming them. Their initiative drove them to be more interactive with manufacturing the component from design to finish and not just standing there in front of a machine and pushing a button in between loading and unloading of a piece of metal.

“We have subsequently moved into management positions in the company. The transition has been seamless and has been made easier with Dad’s retirement and David’s understanding of a younger generation wanting to take the company into the modern digital age with a focus on systems and reporting,” said elder brother Marco.

“Dad and David are from the old school when it comes to running the business. They grew up in the shop at a time when system planning and management tools for machine shops were not top-of-mind, let alone being available. Organisational charts and process thinking were not part of their vocabulary. No one prepared them for modern practices so they did not know how to prepare us, being myself and my brother.”

A completely refurbished track

Fedatech also manufactures other general engineering components

“They were ‘one-man’ shows whereby the individual would answer the phone, work the machine, do the quotes, order the material and tooling and in some cases do the deliveries. I remember how we had a siren in the workshop that was linked to the telephone. The siren would go off as soon as the phone rang and either Dad or David would stop machining, the part of the business that pays the bills and salaries, and go and answer the phone. Some passage of time would go by before they returned to carry on machining. That was if they weren’t required to answer another call. This would result in many extra hours in the shop trying to get the work finished and many of these hours would be un-recorded hours on a job where it was not necessary. Very unproductive.”

“We are not knocking them because that was how it was done and they built a very successful business. But when my brother and I were put in management positions we knew we had to make changes and transform the company into the 21st century. We are dealing with blue-chip type companies like Anglo and De Beers, and have done so for a long time. We needed to show them that they are dealing with a professionally run company before we lost their business.”

“One of the first things we had to do was implement an ERP system. As we should all know ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. Some of the functions associated with ERP and related management software include: Costing or estimating the time and cost of production, scheduling a job for production, and in-process job tracking, or logging each step in a part’s progress through the shop, so a part’s current status can be immediately known. ERP systems also provide a historical view of resources required on prior jobs which can be very helpful in planning new work.”

“Although we are still implementing the changes, this ongoing project has measurably and significantly reduced the distance products travel through the plant, the time employees spend on non-value-added tasks, and lead times quoted to customers.”

A recently machined component

The company is not limited to large components. They regard themselves as a jobbing shop with a high-mix of low-volume work

“Methodology aside, the primary drivers of change, the real heroes of Fedatech Mining & General Precision Engineers’ story so far are the people living and championing the ongoing transformation. The entire staff has been involved and engaged in the process from the outset. We now employ 37 staff and each of them are fully aware of our plans.”

“This exercise revealed some dramatic results but more importantly it gave us the data we needed to make informed decisions resulting in us now being able to firstly build a new 2 000m² factory and offices next to our existing 2 000m² factory in Wadeville, Gauteng as well as invest in new CNC equipment. It did not take a lot of convincing that the management software provides productivity insights.”

“We also have a 2 000m² factory across the road, which we use as a storage facility for the equipment that is sent to us for rebuilding, refurbishment and/or reconditioning. Of course, repair is another service we offer, once we have assessed the equipment.”

“Although we believe that there is a bit of an upswing in some industries, until the economy strengthens significantly, simple economics dictate that companies will rebuild and refurbish components and machinery rather than buy new.”

The company has a Vtec gantry machining center for machining larger components

A teach lathe is also among the equipment used

“We have a foot in both camps. About 20% of our turnover involves manufacturing new components for rebuilding a machine. 80% of the components for the mining equipment we rebuild and refurbish will need to be manufactured new. Fortunately, we have two engineers in our drawing office and they can design from scratch or modify existing drawings because we have purchased a bespoke software licence. This is another department that has been drastically changed and made more productive.”

Berco Track Systems
“We also represent Italian company Berco Track Systems. They manufacture complete track systems including undercarriage components, hydraulics, frames and gearboxes, finished and ready for installation directly onto machines such as pavers, rock boring machines, rice and sugarcane combine harvesters and mini-excavators.”

Fedatech’s equipment includes a Puma 400L lathe supplied by Puma Machine Tools

Fedatech also has a Puma 700L lathe supplied by Puma Machine Tools

“What it allows us to do is if a Berco undercarriage track system is sent to us for rebuild or refurbishment we can source OEM components if they need to be replaced.”

“We are regarded as a jobbing shop with a high-mix of low-volume work. But the scope of one job or project can involve many tons of metal.”

“When my brother and I moved into positions of management, Dad started to get out of the way. But he knew we still had David to guide us. You could say we have made some dramatic changes throughout the company but we are now set and ready for this next surge in business. I think we’re going to see it soon, and I’m excited about the future.”

For further details contact Fedatech Mining & General Precision Engineers on TEL: 011 827 9937