Four brothers and dad. Making it work – Carbo III Engineering

Most of us spend more of our waking hours with co-workers than with our respective families. Finding a mix of people who can work and “live” together at work is a challenge for most businesses.

It’s so tempting though. You launch your business, it starts to grow and you need help. Who better than family? Not only are you giving work and a paycheck to your loved ones, but you’re also assured that you are working with people you can really trust. But…should you work with family members?

The answer may not be so simple – and many business owners are split on the issue. Mixing business with family can be tricky to navigate as a business owner, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid loved ones in the professional environment at all costs. In fact, these multifaceted relationships can give you a leg up against your competition. If you set some clear expectations right from the get-go and follow these few tips, you might find yourself swimming in success – with the people you love swimming right along with you!

The Nortier family comprising middle brother Deon, Gerhard (the eldest), and the youngest brothers twin Pieter, all standing and sitting twin Francois and dad Pieter Snr, all from the Strand area of the Western Cape

It’s not easy to create an environment of teamwork, fair play and winning. Often those who inherit the responsibility for a group of co-workers are filling the shoes of a successful predecessor or mopping up the mess of an unsuccessful one. Both of these scenarios can be daunting assignments – first because there is precedent to improve upon and second because there are often disgruntled employees to deal with.

To me the crux of any successful enterprise is communication. Experience has taught me that a policy of inclusion is always more successful than one of exclusion. From the front office to the shipping dock, I believe it’s in every company’s best interest to loop its workers into the goals, direction, and condition of the company.

Usually in these scenarios you talk about fathers and sons in the business and maybe mum is also part of it. This is at most the usual scenario in relatively small business setups. I can only think of a handful that I have come across in my business career – and one is my own.

The first of Carbo III Engineering’s new CNCs arrived in 2018 – an LK TC 710 drill/tap machine and a Sino VMC 1000L. Both of these machines have been supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools

Very rarely do you have more than three members from the same family working in the same company. To have four brothers and dad working at the same company is very unusual then.

Not so say the Nortier family comprising Dad Pieter Snr, Gerhard (the eldest), middle brother Deon and the youngest brothers twins Pieter and Francois, from the Strand area of the Western Cape.

Carbo III is a family-owned engineering business, where the four brothers and dad have come together with their knowledge and expertise to live their dream to build their own business. This dream, combined with late nights and hard work, has led to the company achieving remarkable growth in its short five-year history.

The company has grown from humble beginnings when it was established in May 2016 in a small warehouse in Strand, Western Cape with only one CNC machine at its disposal.

Pieter Nortier explains: “We have our father – Pieter Snr. – to thank for getting our business going. Four of us – dad, Deon, my twin Francois and myself – had been working at AAT Composites, a high-tech design and manufacturing company developing advanced, lightweight composite products for the leading players in the aircraft interior and aircraft seating industry. The company is based here in Somerset West.”

In May 2019 the company acquired another LK TC 710 drill/tap machine and a Sino VMC 1000L

Tufnol phenolic laminates are a material that the company machines

“Dad is a qualified toolmaker and has spent many years in the toolroom. I was very involved with the CAM operations at the company and Francois was in the CAD department.”

“The company was getting rid of some of its CNC equipment and dad decided to purchase one of them – an Awea CNC mill. He knew that we always had an ambition to start our own machining company and he let us make use of the machine.”

“Soon after acquiring the machine we secured some small machining contracts for engineering companies in the area. At that stage the machining we had to do was composite and similar components so there was no learning curve required for metal machining. As we had full time employment we had to fulfil the contract work in our spare time. However hard that was it was the beginning of our company and the fulfilment of our dream, one that our father also believed in. At this stage Gerhard was on his way to Pretoria for a job opportunity before we persuaded him to join the company.”

“The company grew relatively fast and we soon had to acquire a second machine, a Johnford CNC mill, and we also had to find a bigger factory to house them. Both of these machines are still operational in our business today.”

Carbo III Engineering are machining stainless steel components for balustrading

Carbo III Engineering are machining aluminium components for frameless glass installations

“Such was the growth of the company that in 2018 both Francois and myself had to leave full time employment and concentrate on our own business. As we were no longer employed with the company we could also approach AAT Composites for some of their machining and designing requirements. Today they are one of our biggest clients and we are very thankful for the opportunities that they have afforded us.”

“This was also the foundation for future growth and for dad to join us in the company as well as our middle brothers Deon, because the company had gone through another growth spurt in the previous two years.”

“This has also resulted in us moving to a bigger factory in Somerset West and also purchasing more CNC equipment.”

“The combination of our talents and skills is also very complementary. It has also made us think out of the box and not just concentrate on machining composites.”

Machining composites
“Despite not being hard on the machine composites machining is dusty, messy and hard on tools.
Shops that have never cut Tufnol phenolic laminates – material that is approximately one-fifth the density of steel – might not think it would be very tough. Many times, though, a shop’s first time machining composites is also its last time. It may be that the shop applies cutting strategies appropriate for aluminium or steel alloys, which simply won’t cut it for effectively machining abrasive composites. It also could be as simple as an operator’s flat-out refusal to deal with the dust and mess created when a cutting tool engages a part comprised of epoxy resin and fibre reinforcement.”

The fabrication department

Stainless steel components in the assembly department

“Virtually any machining operation that can be performed on a metal part can also be performed on a composite part. In addition, the milling, turning, drilling and grinding are done using traditional metalworking machines and tools that were not necessarily designed with composites in mind. As with machining any type of material, the key is matching the process to the part by applying cutting techniques and tooling best suited for composites. It’s really no different than adapting one’s machining approach when switching from an aluminium part to a steel part.”

“The composite components that we machine are used in the business class seat shells and auxiliaries for aircraft as well as various lavatory housings for aircraft.”

Aluminium machining
“However, composites are not the only material used in the manufacture of these aircraft products. Aluminium extrusions and other aluminium components are also required and it was the machining of some of these extrusions and components that first obliged us to change to metal machining. Our former employers were very happy with our composite machining services so encouraged us to get involved on the aluminium machining business.”

“At first we were machining components for the CL6710 business class seat but the new development has been the CL6720 business class seat, a new seat that elevates luxury into new spheres with generous living space and best-in-class comfort features.”

New CNC machines
“However, to get involved in this exact and demanding machining, let alone machining of a different material, we had to invest in equipment and our processes.”

“The first of our new CNCs arrived in 2018 – an LK TC 710 drill/tap machine and a Sino VMC 1000L. Both of these machines have been supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools.”

Another more complex aluminium component that has been machined by the company

Various laser cut and bent as well as machined components

“The LK TC-710 is an ultra-compact vertical high-speed CNC drilling/tapping center that has XYZ travels of 710mm by 420mm by 350mm, a table of 650mm by 420mm, a maximum load of 250kgs and rapid traverses of 48/48/48m/min.”

“The Sino VMC 1000L has work table size of 1 200mm by 500mm, XYZ travels of 1 000mm by 500mm by 600mm, a maximum load of 600kg and rapid traverse rates of 32/432/32m/min.”

“Many of the components that we are machining require milling, drilling and tapping. So this influenced the decision on our machine choices. Workloads have subsequently increased which forced us to order a further two machines and these arrived in May 2019. We ordered the exact same machine – an LK TC 710 drill/tap machine and a Sino VMC 1000L – and again both were supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools.”

Other materials, other products
“Like all good businesses diversification is a must so that you don’t rely too much on one client. We are currently going through that process now. And it is not just on the machining side that we are looking for new clients. All five of us are pretty adept with finding solutions for engineering or manufacturing challenges.”

Carbo III Engineering makes its own jigs and fixtures

An aluminium component that has been machined

“We are also machining stainless steel components for balustrading and aluminium components for frameless glass installations. These are just a few examples.”

“We are also machining and manufacturing components for the agricultural industry, stainless steel and aluminium components for frameless glass installations and small components for the space and radar industry. These are just a few examples.”

Own products – Carbo III wood-fired hot tubs
“Ideally you should have your own product or products to market – products whereby you are involved with the majority of the manufacturing. With this in mind we have developed, designed and manufactured a wood-fired hot tub that we launched in December 2020. With the cost of power these days and another 15% increase that’s just been loaded on us the use of wood is a lot more appealing.”

Carbo III Engineering have developed, designed and manufactured a wood-fired hot tub that they launched in December 2020

“It takes one normal size bag of wood to heat the water to approximately 38/39 degrees Celsius within 90 minutes! And this is 1 000 litres of water.”

“It takes one normal size bag of wood to heat the water to approximately 38/39 degrees Celsius within 90 minutes! And this is 1 000 litres of water.”

“Additionally the tub can be portable if necessary as it weighs approximately 90kg without the stove and 130kg with the stove (excluding water).”

“Most of the sheetmetal and other components are made of 316 marine grade stainless steel and where necessary marine grade aluminium. The tub is also supplied with a thermal bubble cover and a stainless steel shovel and rake.”

“We have only been in the market a short time but already we have sold nearly 30 units.”

“It certainly forms part of our goals – bringing more core work in-house, diversifying our customer base and designing and developing our own products.”

For further details contact Carbo III Engineering on TEL: 021 000 5990 or visit