More freedom in the countryside – Bepicon Steel Construction

Imagine driving down a country road, rounding a bend, and coming across a couple of cars in the ditch. You’re the first person on the scene so you use your mobile phone to call emergency services. In a minute or so police cars, ambulances, and a fire truck are on their way.

Dialing 911 isn’t a big deal, but getting your telephone signal routed to the emergency responders is. Your call went to the closest cell phone tower, and from there it was directed to another tower, and another, until it reached the closest town, and then to an operator at the emergency services desk.

The system is mainly electronic, but were it not for those cell phone towers close by you would not have been able to make your emergency call. As the cell phone industry grows and expands into more rural areas and other African countries, more and more of these cell phone towers are going to decorate our countryside.

Bepicon have recently invested in a new Trumpf TruBend 8230 8-axis press brake with five metre bending length. The machine was supplied by Retecon Machine Tools

Not many of the cell phone users really care how they get their signal as long as they get it. They care even less about what infrastructure is needed to get them that signal. Nor do they care or want to find out what is manufactured to relay those signals. The majority don’t even care where their smartphone was manufactured or how it was manufactured. But ask them about the latest smartphone and when it was released and the reverse is true.

Thank goodness for the boom in this industry though because it has created many millions of jobs in all spheres, too numerous to mention. The growth in the industry has also been good to the metal fabricating industry and those companies manufacturing products and components for the infrastructure build. And yes those cell phone towers are an integral part of the industry and require many fabrications.

Recognising this fact was Bepicon Steel Construction, based in Kameeldrift East, north east of Pretoria before you reach the well-known diamond mining town of Cullinan. I can assure you that the ‘Things to do in Kameeldrift East’ list is not very long, if it exists.

Bepicon Steel Construction’s owner Danie Botha

This fact does influence Bepicon Steel Construction. There are too many plusses that far outweigh the minuses as to why the company is based on a ‘plot’ in a mixed bushveld area.

Owner Danie Botha was an IT man before, through force of circumstances, he ventured out into the fabricating world with little knowledge of the industry.

At first he thought he would manufacture bumpers and bullbars. He did not realise what was needed to manufacture these products and relatively speaking how crowded the industry already was. Then he turned to furniture manufacture but was again faced with the same story. Botha’s ambitions were also hampered by his ‘factory’ situation. Operating from a garage at home that only had single-phase electricity supply did not auger well for purchasing the modern machinery he needed if he was going to be serious about being a fabricator.

“There was no real reason why I chose engineering and less why I chose processing sheet metal, plate and structural steel. All I knew is that I wanted to get out of the IT business and I needed to somehow earn money. I was quite involved in programming and hoped this would help me going forward. Only now do I realise how it has helped when we need to operate the various software programmes that we have at our disposal.”

Bepicon manufactures numerous products and components for the cell phone installation and service industry

Products include antennae and masts, all of which are galvanised

“But as they say – hungry men and women, sparked by the same fire, won’t stop evolving – and I needed to do this if I was going to make my own business a success.”

“My first real break came when a friend asked me to make some components for the telecommunications business. It was mainly brackets that I had to fabricate. Up until then I had taken on any work that was offered, not specialising in any particular area. My shop was a make-it-best-you-can environment where almost every new job represented new process challenges. It was also an environment where profit or loss hinged on how efficiently I could get a job done. But it was all part of the learning curve.”

“Once I started manufacturing the brackets though I realised that there was a lot more to the telecommunications business. Like the solar energy market that offers huge opportunities today. At the time I manufactured my first bracket there was a huge opportunity in this industry not just to manufacture a specific bracket but a huge array of them. The installation of towers, antennae and masts for the telecommunications industry, or more specifically the cell phone industry, required all sorts of brackets.”

“And it wasn’t just brackets that the installation and maintenance companies needed.”

Bepicon manufactures numerous versions of brackets and are now specified by the cell phone tower designers as the Bepicon bracket

The new Trumpf TruBend 8230 8-axis press brake comes with two bending aid arms (maximum load per arm is 150kgs), an additional 200mm on the stroke/height, a CNC controlled crowning facility with point based adjustability, hydraulic upper and lower tool clamping, 3D programming and visualisation and laser controlled bending with automatic positioning

“Poles, antennae and all associated antenna mounting brackets on various lattice and tubular structures, fencing, ladders and steps – a whole host products and components. We decided to specialise in this area of industry and even started to design our own products as well as create new ones. There are both niche and standard products that we manufacture. But the biggest accolade for us now is that our products, in particular the brackets, are now specified by these companies. For example they will specify on the tender a Bepicon bracket to be used.”

“As a result of our relatively rapid growth we moved from our garage situation to the ‘plot’ five years ago. I live close by so when the building that housed a cattle feed manufacturer became available I moved into the bigger factory, which is about 1 000m².”

“Before we could move in a huge amount of renovation had to take place. We even had to rewire the whole facility but at least we have three-phase electricity now.”

“The location does not hamper us in any way at all. It is less than 20 kilometres from Pretoria so delivery of supplies or collection of product is not disadvantaged. We work in a nature type environment so there are no distractions as is the case if you are located in an industrial area. Additionally, the noise aspect, not that we make much, does not come into the equation because we are hundreds of metres away from our neighbours.”

Bepicon has a department where tube cutting is done as well as angle iron work done on a Geka

Bepicon takes particular care of its bevel cutting. The company is also securing work in other industries such as the rail transport and mining industries

“The move also allowed us to start investing in more equipment. An Amada press brake first arrived and then in October 2016 we purchased a Microstep CNC plasma cutter with a bed size of 2 500 x 6 000mm. The machine can cut carbon steel up to 60mm.”

“The investment in the Microstep CNC plasma cutter has opened up a whole host of opportunities for us. Our core business still remains supplying the installation and maintenance companies in the cell phone industry. But we can now supply them additional components that are plate related too.”

“We also now don’t have all our eggs in one industry. The acquisition of the machine has allowed us to cut components for the rail engineering industry.”

“Such has been the expansion in this area that last month (September 2018) we processed 56 tons of material on the Microstep CNC plasma cutter. This is compared to 30 tons of material that was processed on the other side of the business, which we call the manufacturing side.”

Bevel quality
“The bevel cutting process can be a challenge for most companies. An estimated 40 per cent of parts cut on a plasma cutting table ultimately need a beveled edge, most often for weld preparation. For the most part, these edges are cut with a secondary process. Fabricators cut parts to size using plasma, then pick up and move the parts to another station to add the bevelled edge. This not only adds time and labour to most jobs, but also wastes metal as the parts are cut a second time.”

Bepicon invested in a Microstep CNC plasma cutter with a bed size of 2 500 x 6 000mm

The Microstep CNC plasma cutter can cut carbon steel up to 60mm

“Using a bevel head on the plasma table itself can eliminate the need for these secondary operations and increase productivity, but one large obstacle stands in the way: The physical behaviour of the plasma arc changes as the torch tilts and the consumables wear. The operator needs to compensate constantly by adjusting the settings. Though not exactly difficult, this task consumes a large amount of time and material as it is very iterative, requiring quite a bit of trial and error. For many, this impedes productivity on the bevel cutting table, so much so that they give up bevelling with plasma altogether, and instead let their expensive automated bevel equipment sit idle.”

“With this in mind, when we purchased our Microstep CNC plasma cutter we insisted that it was supplied with a Kjellberg power source as we believe that the company has the best option when it comes to bevel cutting of material. New technology offers a high level of automation for the programmer by incorporating best-practice bevel cut sequences into CAD/CAM programming and nesting software. It also puts all bevel compensation data into the CNC, not the programming software. Therefore, the part programme or nest represents the actual desired part geometry, without bevel compensations. This eliminates the need for trial-and-error programming. Instead, operators can quickly and easily make any necessary adjustments at the machine.”

New Trumpf TruBend 8230 8-axis press brake with five metre bending length
“Rapid advances in sheet metal fabricating technologies can produce amazing results. The latest “big thing” to hit the industry is the fiber laser. The productivity gain from these machines is spectacular – well, until you find a mountain of flat blanks in front of your press brake.”

“We might not have a fiber laser on our floor at the moment but we still needed to upgrade our bending department.”

Components ready for dispatch

Bepicon still makes use of an older version Amada press brake

“Over the years press brake machines have undergone three big changes: How the machines are driven, how they are automated, and, finally, how parts flow through them. The challenge most fabricators face is understanding these transformations and how to apply them to their situation. Applied correctly, though, they all work together to free the bending bottleneck.”

“We have chosen a new Trumpf TruBend 8230 8-axis (Y1, Y2, X1, X2, R, Z1, Z2 and I-axis) press brake that has a five metre bending length and a 230 ton force. The specifications on this machine are high. It comes with two bending aid arms (maximum load per arm is 150kgs), an additional 200mm on the stroke/height, a CNC controlled crowning facility with point based adjustability, hydraulic upper and lower tool clamping, 3D programming and visualisation and laser controlled bending with automatic positioning.”

“We are very pleased with this purchase and it has transformed our bending department into the modern age.”

Going forward
“Going forward we are looking at adding laser cutting to our list of services. Tube cutting and bending is also high on the agenda, as is automation.”

“We have also reached a stage in the company’s history where we need to measure and analyse each department and operation in the company, namely in safety, quality, delivery, productivity and cost. This is no easy task but the ultimate purpose is to drive measurable improvement in the company.”

“Currently 16 staff are processing 86 tons of material a month but I ask myself: Could we be doing more? In today’s fast-paced manufacturing environment, improvements need to be identified and implemented as quickly as possible. In fact, in some industries it may mean the difference between profit and loss.”

For further details contact Bepicon Steel Construction on TEL: 012 819 1063 or visit