There are many reasons why companies operate different makes of cutting and bending machines and have a combination of other technologies such as laser, plasma and waterjet at their disposal.
These choices provide a lot of flexibility for manufacturers enabling them to have the best mix of technologies and capabilities to suit their customers’ demands, meet production, delivery and cost targets as well as keeping capital expenditure within budget.
The complications are that CNC programming is different for each machine, operating methods, maintenance and spare parts are all specific to each of the machines and users will require extra training to get the best efficiencies.
There are many reasons why companies operate different makes of cutting and bending machines and have a combination of other technologies such as laser, plasma and waterjet at their disposal. These choices provide a lot of flexibility for manufacturers enabling them to have the best mix of technologies and capabilities to suit their customers’ demands, meet production, delivery and cost targets as well as keeping capital expenditure within budget
Simplifying and integrating the running of different machines and cutting technologies in one manufacturing facility is just part of the complex challenge faced when trying to achieve efficient and cost-effective manufacture.
“Providing the best products and services is at the heart of everything we do at Napoleon Fabrications. For this reason, we have started investing in the latest machinery, which allows us to deliver high-quality sheet metal work and not rely on outsourcing as we have been doing. We now use our own CNC machines to achieve this. From CNC laser cutting to CNC bending, we’re able to manufacture products to your exact specifications. Then there are all the other value-add processes that we offer,” explained Leon de Villiers, one of two brothers that own and manage Napoleon Fabrications.
In line with Napoléon Bonaparte, usually referred to as simply Napoleon in English, the French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the Revolutionary Wars, the company does have the French national flag colours of red, white and blue as its corporate colours. But that is where the connection with the French stops, although the owners surname is also a common French surname.
Two years ago Napoleon Fabrications invested in their first laser machine – a JFY International TFC4020S fiber laser, which was supplied by Puma Machine Tools. The machine has a 3kW power source and a bed size of 4 000mm by 2 000mm
“Napoleon is my first name as it is my father’s first name. I am the fifth generation son in our family to be given this name. It is now tradition that the first born son be given the name Napoleon as his first name. It is also easy to understand where the Leon comes from.”
“Manufacturing a sheet metal product can require several stages: Laser cutting and bending, forming, welding and painting is one of many sequences. A variety of technologies can be employed in each one of these phases. In some cases you have to work out which is best for your situation. For example, when comparing sheet metal punching and press stamping you also need to calculate when it is convenient to punch a product and when to build a punching hard tool. In fact, sheet fed CNC punching is usually employed where the production mix is high, with products with low quantities and materials changing continuously (small batches). Press stamping is a good choice for mass production of a part with high quantities, and using the same material.”
Inhouse capabilities or outsourcing
“The same thought processes of what is best for your situation should apply to inhouse capabilities or outsourcing. But these thoughts can vary vastly and be very liquid, depending on order books etc. In our case we got to a stage where we could no longer rely on outsourcing. Our decision to invest in equipment such as a fiber laser was catapulted forward because our material cutting requirements had reached 50% of our processing mix.”
Napoleon Fabrications invested in a Hugong HG 4020 6kW fiber laser, supplied and installed by TRM Supplies. The machine has only been running since July 2021. The Hugong also has a bed size of 4 000mm by 2 000mm and its power source is Precitec
The company offers press brake bending services
“Principally the company has always been a fabrication company. From the beginning my Dad and myself were running around sourcing different size pieces of metal and then welding them together to manufacture gates and balustrades. In essence we were assembling. This all happened in the early 2000s when I was still at school and my Dad was still working full time as a boilermaker. We literally worked out of our garage at home.”
“Soon after I completed matric we felt confident enough to rent a small factory, about the size of a double garage, in Booysens on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Dad also decided it was time to work in the business full-time and before we knew it we were renting a second small factory and then a third one. The increase in business also included fabricating structural and plate work.”
“Business was good and as a result my brother Coenie joined us in 2008. Dad then decided to retire in 2012 and the two of us purchased the company from him. We continued operating from the same factories until 2009. It then became imperative to move to a bigger facility because of the increase in business and this is when we moved to our current factory in Wadeville, Gauteng. The factory and office space consists of 2 900m² and the yard area, which is used extensively, is 2 000m².”
“As said previously fabrication shops employ a multitude of value-added processes, including welding, cutting, bending, forming and machining. There is also guillotining and rolling that can be added. Then there are the finishing processes that not many include in their services. These include shotblasting, painting and coating.”
Welding is another service offered by Napoleon Fabrications
Tanks that have been fabricated
“Some fabricators try to grow their manufacturing business by doing everything possible. However, you have to choose business goals that are realistic and document them so you can see your milestones and track your growth along the way. You may overwhelm yourself and your employees if you don’t have a clear plan first.”
Flexible and versatile
“Our plan has always been to be as flexible and versatile as possible and not concentrate on one area of industry. We also knew that we had to offer more than welding and assembly, whether the processes were done inhouse or outsourced. Preferably we would like to do all the processes inhouse but that is not always possible from the beginning, especially if you are still relatively small.”
“From the time we moved to Wadeville we did start to increase our services and these now include laser and plasma cutting, bending, rolling, guillotining, bandsawing, painting, zinc metal spraying, shotblasting, plate fabrication and heavy and medium structural steel work.”
“In 2010 we won some work to fabricate oil cooled transformer tanks for high voltage distribution. Yes that area where the public utility is supposed to give us a steady supply of power. In normal first world counties you would flip a switch, a light comes on, and you probably don’t give it much thought. Here in South Africa we are more aware of the industry because of power outages and load shedding, but still not the technicalities associated with power supply. However, if you were to dig into the details, you’d find that the electrical network in your home runs through wire. That wire typically comprises three solid strands of copper, which do get stolen often. The system that transfers that electricity from the generating station to your home is much more complex. Electrical current travels from the station to a step-up transformer, through a transmission network, then through a step-down transformer and through a distribution network before it finally gets to your house. These transformers need cooling and that is done via a special mix of oil that is stored in tanks.”
Napoleon Fabrications fabricate oil cooled transformer tanks for high voltage distribution
Tanks fabricated by Napoleon Fabrications
“These are the tanks that we have been manufacturing and still do today. We supply distribution and high-voltage equipment supply companies such as Actom, MDS, ABB, WEG and Dimako.”
“This breakthrough into the power industry led to us investing in more equipment and processes. Thinner gauge material is used when manufacturing the tanks and they also require a zinc coating, hence our zinc metal spray booth.”
“Through these contacts we would also manufacture components for the cooling towers and fan screens used on the Medupi and Kusile power stations.”
“Because of increased domestic work we have slowly been building up our laser cutting requirements to the extent it now accounts for about 50% of our production requirements.”
“Local manufacturing companies are facing escalating pressures from competition, globalisation and imports to increase productivity. To counter this manufacturers and job shops are investing in speedy and accurate laser cutting machines. These machines come with high price tags that place additional pressure on the laser cutting shop to compete and to have a positive return on the machine investment.”
Another service that the company offers is zinc metal spraying
The company is also capable of doing structural steel work
“Investing in a laser machine enables these companies to compete. However, it is only a partial solution. Another vital part is the CAD/CAM software programme needed to drive the machine. Efficient nesting, motion control, and programming is just as important. The software controls all the machine motion and hinders output if not used properly. Therefore one can conclude that it is the combination of both the machine and CAD/CAM software that addresses the cutting productivity needs for laser cutting.”
“Success in maximising laser machine cutting efficiency often leads to bottlenecks in material-handling or production scheduling systems. Therefore it is only if these three factors are employed correctly and continuously improved will the laser cutting shop be truly competitive.”
JFY International TFC4020S 3kW fiber laser
“Two years ago we invested in our first laser machine – a JFY International TFC4020S fiber laser, which was supplied by Puma Machine Tools. The machine has a 3kW power source and a bed size of 4 000mm by 2 000mm.”
Laser cut components waiting for dispatch
Brothers Leon and Coenie de Villiers
“We didn’t want to spend a huge amount on a new piece of equipment because we are not a high-volume production business. The JFY suited our needs at the time and it was priced lower than many larger machines. I didn’t want used equipment. I’m not a big fan. Usually you are buying someone else’s problem that they want to get rid of. That’s usually the reason they are upgrading.”
“One of the primary reasons we invested in the JFY was that our sums showed us that it would contribute to a reduction in production costs and it certainly has done so.”
Hugong HG 4020 6kW fiber laser
“This successful experience that we had with our first laser was one of the reasons that convinced us to purchase a second, but more powerful machine. Another reason was that demand had grown from our existing customers once they knew we had a laser, but then there was the request to cut thicker material. We had been working predominantly with thinner or lighter gauge material and our 3kW JFY is perfect for that.”
“Again we did not want to spend large amounts of money and the Hugong HG 4020 6kW fiber laser, supplied and installed by TRM Supplies, fitted our budget. The machine has only been running since July 2021.”
“The Hugong also has a bed size of 4 000mm by 2 000mm and its power source is Precitec.”
“If you examine the price to performance ratio of the different lasers that we have, the main benefit of the higher power 6kW Hugong HG laser is its ability to cut materials of thicker gauge. There are also small benefits in thickness capacity when cutting non-ferrous materials. We are now able to process ferrous and non-ferrous materials from 0.5mm up to 25mm.”
“If we need to cut thicker material we use our Hypertherm Maxpro 200 plasma cutter that has a bed size of 6 000mm by 2 500mm.”
The company has done mining and factory structural steel work as well as supplying structural steel work and manufacturing platforms, ladders and walkways for the conveyor industry
Napoleon Fabrications will also assemble and fabricate for clients
“The acquisition of the Hugong certainly has opened up new doors for us, especially in areas of industry where we have not ventured into. We are already in the mining and water sanitation industries and we hope to increase our presence in these industries.”
Structural steel work
“We have done mining and factory structural steel work as well as supplying structural steel work and manufacturing platforms, ladders and walkways for the conveyor industry.”
“We are processing between 180 and 190 tons of sheet and plate a month.”
“Another service we offer is conventional lathe, drilling and milling work.”
The acquisition of the fiber laser machines allows the company to bid on contracts that it simply wouldn’t be able to pursue otherwise. De Villiers likes to describe the company as a ‘new-school’ manufacturer with an ‘old-school’ attitude. The new-school thinking follows manufacturing trends – emphasis on improving efficiency, cutting costs, and investing in technology. The old-school attitude recognises the value of its customers and employees and what they bring to the table.
For further details contact Napoleon Fabrications on TEL: 902 2189 or email email@example.com