New ideas spur success at young startup

SP Laser Cut flourishes as a custom manufacturer.

It is not hard to work out what the initials SP stand for in the company name SP Laser Cut, a young startup company whose directors look at work as a fun and an exhilarating experience rather than a means to earn a living. Both directors are successful businessmen in their own right. But even though they have known each other for over 30 years this is the first time that they have ventured into business together.

So how do a machinist, who trained himself to be a competent designer in 3D using high-end software, and a bulldozer mechanic partner to start what they call is a sheetmetal jobbing shop? It’s because they are brothers-in-law and the time was never right before for them to start a business together. Shaun Welthagen and Pierre Parente are linked through Pierre’s sister Esmeralda, a graphic designer who helps in the family business when the two men, who are close to her, need artistic work to be done on the final product they are manufacturing for clients.

Pierre Parente in front of his computer screens doing what he gets exited about – designing

Shaun Welthagen in front of one of his favourite toys – an Amada HK400 bandsaw

“Pierre was involved in his father’s engineering business from an early age and eventually took over running the business when his dad retired in 2003. This business, which was focused on machining metal when it was established, was eventually sold but not before it took a monumental change in focus in 1993 when the company purchased a press brake. Before that it had mills and capstan and conventional lathes as the equipment that it used because of my father-in-law Carlos’s training as a toolmaker,” explained Shaun Welthagen.

“Pierre got his machining experience on those machines but this would change. A friend, who was in the precision electronic enclosures business, Peter, influenced them to start manufacturing the enclosures for him, the reason for the company purchasing a press brake. But you need more than a press brake to manufacture enclosures. Subsequently they would purchase a turret punch press and then a CO2 laser. The company continued to offer a mixture of machining and sheetmetal operations until 2000 when there was a definite swing in the business focus. That year the business was transformed from shaping metal to forming metal and then fabricating and assembling.”

Transylvania Towing Services
“My background is in the trucking industry. After working at my trade for a while I started my own business Transylvania Towing Services, a 24-hour recovery, towing and specialised abnormal transport company. With an ever improving modern fleet of over 30 vehicles we say we are able to move anything to any place at any time.”

An Amada 4kW FO3015 laser that has a worksheet size of 3 000mm x 1 500mm

Various components are made on a press

“Our lowbed fleet comprises of lowbeds varying from the smallest – which is a double axle capable of between 16 and 18 tons – to our abnormal lowbeds that can transport a payload of up to 65 ton. Our recovery vehicles can either free tow trucks and similar and as they are fitted with a fixed crane and two 40 ton winches they are big enough to recover most vehicles in precarious situations.”

“I have expanded the business to include servicing and repairs of trucks, which includes those that have been in an accident and need body work to be done.”

“This is one of the reasons Pierre and I have started our sheet metal jobbing shop. Once it is fully up to speed SP Laser will be able to form and cut components for my repair side as well as develop the ideas that can be used on trucks in general.”

After selling his business, Parente was gainfully employed but the lure to develop, design and manufacture his own products soon took hold again. With his background of working the machines on the shopfloor, Parente still today likes to get his hands dirty, although he does have competition from his brother-in-law these days who as he states, “If we can make it we will”. However, Parente finds the area of developing and designing products and components most exciting.

The Amada AE 2510NT turret punch press that has a 200kN press capacity and worksheet size of 1 270mm x 2 500mm

Welding and fabrication is part of the services that SP Laser offer

“I made a conscious and deliberate decision to jump into the world of 3D and invested in the latest software so that I could offer a full service from drafting to final product. When we purchased the various Amada machines, I was using the Amada AP 100 software, which is perfect for creating 2D CAD drawings or importing DXF/DWG files from an existing system and for communicating with the machines, but you need Inventor or SolidWorks if you want to design in 3D,” explained Pierre Parente.

“Any company today that is not designing in 3D should also be using conventional machinery,” quipped Parente.

“The full range of products that we manufacture today, such as the 19” racks, wall boxes, cabinets and IP enclosures, are all designed in 3D. Many of the products are purpose built and are for clients that have followed me,” continued Parente.

“We only started the business in September 2018 and it was only in January this year that we got into full production. To make it easy for us we have taken over underutilised space – about 800m² – at Shaun’s factory complex in Anderbolt, Boksburg. The equipment that we have acquired includes an Amada AE 2510NT turret punch press that has a 200kN press capacity and worksheet size of 1 270mm x 2 500mm, an Amada 4kW FO3015 laser that has a worksheet size of 3 000mm x 1 500mm, an Amada RGM2-8024 bending machine that has a bending length of 2 505mm, an Amada RGM2-3512 bending machine that has a bending length of 1 250mm and Shaun’s favourite, an Amada HK400 bandsaw.”

“But before we could install this equipment we had to get the Ekurhuleni Municipality to install extra power and do they know how to charge!”

SP Laser have just completed a prototype of a storage draw for the back of a bakkie vehicle. They are investigating manufacturing the storage draw for any type of bakkie that is sold in South Africa. It’s made from aluminium so it does not add much weight

SP Laser have also completed an extra length trailer for transporting cars. A great product for someone that is into motorsport and needs to transport his vehicles to the race track

“Although we say that we are a jobbing shop, in the strict sense of the word we are not. Our enclosures are a good example. There are different variants that we manufacture, either for indoors or outdoors and for different industries, including IT and electronics. You have to consider what footprint the cabinet or enclosure is going to occupy, the space requirements inside, shelving, adding remote control systems, security and many others. Then the finishes on these could be different and this could affect the electroplating and powder coating requirements, which we outsource. The aesthetics also play a part. You don’t want an ugly enclosure in an office or retail situation.”

“You might say that an enclosure is a bit of sheet metal cut, bent or folded, that has had a few holes punched in it and then welded and fabricated before being finished if required. As simple as that. But there are many aspects you have to consider before you design a cabinet or an enclosure, especially if you are supplying product to the IT industry. So really we are a custom manufacturer.”

“However we are not just making one-offs all the time. The numbers vary but there are generally always multiples of them.”

“An area of industry where we are gaining traction and where we are making hundreds at a time are the enclosures for the fiber industry. This is one industry that is very vibrant in South Africa at the moment as fiber telecommunication gets rolled out.”

R&D phase
Welthagen takes up the story: “At this stage of the company’s history we are happy with the amount of clients we have and the numbers are growing. We now employ 10 staff and we are looking to increase this number as we introduce some of our own products. So we regard this stage as our R&D phase. With Pierre’s ability to conceptualise, design and develop products in a relatively short period we have a big advantage over many businesses of a similar type to ours. At the same time he has the machine and process knowledge.”

Various sections of an enclosure that have been fabricated

Components that have been cut, bent and or punched ready for fabrication

SP Laser’s most recent purchase is an Amada RGM2-3512 bending machine that has a bending length of 1 250mm

“My skill is that I have the engineering ability to interpret and observe with concept. Years of experience in the trucking industry have taught me these skills. But it is not just about concepts and abilities. We have recognised that, again because of my years in the industry, that there are many accessories that we can manufacture and install on a truck or tanker.”

“According to the Road Freight Association of South Africa, figures indicate that there are more than 500 000 commercial trucks in use on South African roads and there are around 15 000 truck fleets in South Africa that have five and more trucks representing agriculture, mining, quarrying, manufacturing, and many others including 3 100 transport companies.”

“That is plenty of trucks to supply product to.”

“However it is not only that aspect that we are looking into. I have developed a reasonable size repair facility, including a spray booth, at Transylvania Towing Services and we are constantly having to repair bodywork and other areas of a truck. This is not restricted to my fleet as we have regular customers that make use of our facility and services. This is where our ability to cut, bend, form and fabricate at SP Laser will be very useful. This aspect will grow organically as we progress. It might require some different skill sets but that will all be part of the learning curve.”

On the bending equipment side SP Laser has an Amada RGM2-8024 bending machine that has a bending length of 2 505mm

An enclosure that has been manufactured by SP Laser

The full range of products that SP Laser manufactures includes 19” racks, wall boxes, cabinets and IP enclosures but they are not limited to these products in the IT industry. The example shown is for a cable management system that at the same time hides the cables

“We are not restricting ourselves to this type of work though. We have just completed a prototype of a storage draw for the back of a bakkie. This could be rolled out for any type of bakkie that is sold in South Africa. It’s made from aluminium so it does not add much weight.”

“We have also just completed an extra length trailer for transporting cars. A great product for someone that is into motorsport.”

“One of our bigger clients today is a multinational conglomerate company that makes a variety of commercial and consumer products, engineering services and aerospace systems for a wide variety of customers, from private consumers to major corporations and governments. We supply a range of electronic enclosures. Although we have clients in many varied industries, I would say the telecommunications electronic component businesses are the most important to us.”

For further details contact SP Laser on TEL: 011 917 1717