Herona Engineering plans ahead with the introduction of a Victor Vcenter P136 machining center

Herona Engineering has had CNC equipment on its floor since 2004 when the company purchased its first CNC machine – a Victor Vturn-26 machining center. But this precision engineering company, based in Delporton, Krugersdorp West, has been in existence since 1982 and had built up a sizeable client base and reputation before the CNC arrived, by machining all of the components it manufactured for clients on conventional equipment. Some of this equipment that was first invested in still performs standard machining operations that meet the required specifications. The key is matching the process to the component by applying cutting techniques and tooling best suited to the material and machine, according to Rocco Huliciar, the main member of the company.

“My Dad arrived in South Africa in 1971 as part of the recruitment to attract skilled tradesmen and technicians to this country. He was a qualified fitter and turner and obtained his ticket in his country of birth Czechoslovakia and the area where he was born is now known as Slovakia. To escape the communist rule of Czechoslovakia he fled to Austria, a country that offered him a new life and where he worked in the textile industry. It was while in Austria that he learnt about the YMCA, a worldwide youth organisation, offering opportunities for skilled workers in the engineering field to emigrate and work in South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. He chose South Africa because of the wonderful wild life that the country has to offer,” said Huliciar.

Life was not easy for the late Jean Huliciar but fortunately he had a son that was very interested in engineering and qualified as a toolmaker while working for Cobra Watertech, a company that was one of the largest employers in the West Rand/Krugersdorp areas when it manufactured kitchen, bathroom and sanitaryware products locally and is now part of the Japanese company Lixil Corporation.

The new Victor Vcenter P136 machining center is the first of its model to be installed in South Africa as it was only recently released. The new Vcenter-P136 vertical machining center is available with XYZ axis travel of 1 360mm by 700mm by 700mm, a powerful Fanuc 0i-MF CNC control unit with a 15inch monitor and a robust 12 000rpm spindle powered by a T8/12000i high torque motor

“I was already spending plenty of my spare time at my Dad’s company before I went off to do my apprenticeship. Dad’s untimely passing in 2006 meant that I had to take care of his passion at the early age of 32. It was a huge learning curve for me but I am not the first to be put in this position and although I lost my Dad, I am thankful for the opportunity and 15 years later we still have a successful business that he would be proud of.”

“He started off renting a 36m² space inside another factory before we built our current 700m² facility and moved into it in 1996. We have been very happy here but we are bursting at the seams now and will have to look at extending our space soon.”

“Dad built his business around the first two machines he purchased – a manual centre lathe and Bridgeport-type milling machine. Both of these machines are still fully operational today. When I arrived I was very keen to transform to the CNC equipment but Dad was a bit hesitant.”

“For those familiar only with manual or conventional equipment, making the jump to CNC can be a scary proposition. But take heart, because more and more builders and control developers are focusing on providing CNCs with operational and programming capabilities that even the complete novice can grasp.”

“Essentially we run a general engineering job shop operation manufacturing components for a variety of industries. A job shop is a make-it-best-you-can environment where almost every new job represents new process challenges. You are a part manufacturer with no volumes to speak of. Not only does it perform high-mix, low-volume work, it’s also an environment where profit or loss hinges on how efficiently the shop can get a job done.”

While the company’s workload has grown considerably over the years, it only has five CNC machine tools on the floor, three centre lathes, one turret milling machine, two universal milling machines, one cylindrical grinder, key seating and broaching equipment, a couple of band saws and arc and CO2 welding equipment. Despite this small size Herona Engineering has been able to grow and thrive with such limited numbers is thanks primarily to Huliciar’s dedication to investing in technology and maximising the capabilities of his contractors.

The first CNC the company purchased was a Victor Vturn-26 lathe

Huliciar says several strategies have enabled the company to reach this point. According to him, a shop’s most valuable resource is its contractors, so figuring out how to manage and develop them is essential to growth. Having emigrated from Czechoslovakia with nothing but “a suitcase and the opportunity to better his life in a democracy,” his father instituted a culture of self-sufficiency at the company.

“I continued with this culture and I still put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of my contractors. I have set it up so that the more and harder they work the more they earn. By maximising contractors’ satisfaction, it allows you to drive their development and the development of the company. Contractor comfort and satisfaction means more than meets the eye.”

“In my case I was able to explore the opportunity of emigrating to New Zealand and opening up a similar business there a few years back. I knew that I could leave the business in safe hands while away for lengthy periods.”

Move to, and return from New Zealand
“I was fed up with the politics and economic climate in South Africa. Like many before I took my family to New Zealand hoping that we would find a better life without the tension that we live under in South Africa. Take the current industrial action and strike that is taking place in the metal and engineering sector at the moment. We have only just started to get a bit of momentum going and now we have this setback.”

“This is a compounding factor for many business owners as it was for me at the time.”

“New Zealand is an extremely beautiful country, very expensive and has plenty going for it but very little opportunities, especially for immigrants like myself and even more so if you want to run your own machining business. Materials and labour are expensive and with it being a first world country everything works because it is run by qualified people who implement the maintenance programmes, for example. This leads to very little breaking and of course in metalworking very little call for replacement of broken parts.”

“One of the biggest obstacles to overcome though is trying to fit into their style of life and not having your family, friends or network near at hand. For the youngsters it is fine because they have their whole life ahead to look forward to but for an established person it is very hard, unless you have plenty of money but that would be applicable anywhere.”

“Of course it didn’t help that after being the boss for so long I suddenly had to report to a boss. There are many pros and cons but despite the many problems we have here there is nothing like home.”

“I came back to South Africa before the COVID-19 Delta variant struck and unfortunately because of the travel restrictions imposed by New Zealand I have unable to return back to join my family.”

New Victor Vcenter P136 machining center
“However, it has given me the opportunity to help grow the company here in South Africa and also invest. We have stuck with the Victor brand and now have three machining centers and two lathes on the floor. One of the more recent machines we purchased was the Victor Vcenter 85, which has XYZ travels of 850mm by 520mm by 560mm.”

“Some years back we purchased a Victor Vcenter 130 machining center and it has worked like a trojan horse and still does. However, we have to take into account that there will be a time that we do not want to be caught with a breakdown.”

One of the more recent machines HeronaEngineering purchased was the Victor Vcenter 85, which has XYZ travels of 850mm by 520mm by 560mm

“We do careful, meticulous research into every machine we purchase. It is not just a case of investing in new technology. When we purchase a new machine, we look for technology that lets us do something we couldn’t do before.”

“The new Victor Vcenter P136 machining center is the first of its model to be installed in South Africa as it was only recently released. The new Vcenter-P136 vertical machining center is available with XYZ axis travel of 1 360mm by 700mm by 700mm, a powerful Fanuc 0i-MF CNC control unit with a 15inch monitor and a robust 12 000rpm spindle powered by a T8/12000i high torque motor.”

“Renowned for being a brand built upon quality, stability, rigidity and performance, the new Vcenter-P136 takes these attributes a step further. The new addition to the company’s VMC line-up is supplied with a CTS, oil skimmer and much more.”

“Many job shops start in a garage with a used mill and a manual lathe. Essentially we are no different. Like them we have progressed. Making our job shop a more efficient producer is our goal. Since the beginning we have not purchased our equipment with a specific order to put on it. That’s another machine shop myth we have ignored. So far, anyway, when we’ve bought machines, they give us additional capability and flexibility and our workload has grown into the new capacity.”

For further details contact Herona Engineering on TEL: 011 665 4762 or visit www.herona.co.za