ONS Electrical and Engineering owner makes it happen after a layoff

Invests in DNE fibre laser. Looking to invest more in other metalworking equipment.

According to a recent international study millennials have a strong entrepreneurial inclination, and their motivations for starting a business challenges preconceived notions. “The study found that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well with 41 per cent of Americans saying they would quit their job and start a business in the next six months if they had the tools and resources they needed. This number is higher for millennials with more than half of those surveyed stating that they would be willing to take the entrepreneurial leap in the next six months with the right tools and resources.”

For Kenny Pillay he did not need a study, the right tools or resources. He did not need any motivation or pushing. At the age of 32 he had been retrenched after building up a decent resume in positions other than manufacturing, let alone metalworking. The closest he came was his last position where he was Manager of the spares department at an automotive OEM. Even with no dependants to worry about coupled with very little savings, he still needed to earn.

The DNE fibre laser with a bed size of 3 000mm by 1 500mm with a 3kW fibre power source. The machine was installed by the South Africa branch last year

“I was forced to get out there and do something. And I had no idea what I wanted to do. I did not even have money to purchase cell phone time. I had to borrow from a friend.”

“Fortunately, after knocking on doors my first customer, a company that is located in Roslyn just outside Pretoria and is a manufacturer of electrical components and also supplies the automotive industry, asked me to quote on a component they needed. I did not even have money to purchase raw material or the know how to manufacture the component.”

“My next stroke of luck was I found this tool and diemaker who was looking for extra work at the time, a fact that I only found out later, and he could manufacture the component for me. Surprisingly I won the quote and then the pressure came to deliver. Somehow I did and as a result this customer put trust in me. They did have to pay me on order though at first because I would not have been able to get the second order done if I did not have some cash flow. They are still my number one customer today, eight years later.”

ONS Electrical and Engineering also offers welding as a service

“From then on I became a middleman between new customers that I acquired and my first supplier who would manufacture everything for me. He and I became friends and promised to help each other business wise. When the time came for me to start machining myself I rented some factory space from him and some of his old CNC equipment. It was a start and I was grateful to be able to earn a living.”

“One thing I made sure of, and still do today, is to give my clients the best service and turnaround time. I am on top of this all the time and it is a big plus factor in my favour. Added to this is having a competitive price and presenting a quality product.”

“Today, what it takes to launch and succeed with a startup machining or fabrication business is arguably becoming a more important and relevant question. From a macro view, we need more machining businesses – we need more shops. Many decades-old job shops in South Africa will close or be acquired in the coming few years, as their baby-boomer founders reach retirement without successors. New shops founded by millennial entrepreneurs could be a partial answer and could take up opportunities these shops leave behind. Yet from a more micro level view, realising this solution is challenging. New shops face high barriers to thriving.”

The DNE fibre laser is run on nitrogen. Air Products is the supplier

“To start a business a manufacturing business owner needs to be outgoing and not be scared of rejection. You need to have an uncontrollable desire to succeed and enjoy dealing with people. As it happened to me, people buy from people they like, and that is a fact of life. To succeed in this or any business, you need to like going out to introduce yourself to potential customers, spending countless hours bidding on contracts, and after all that, your efforts may not pay off for a long time. Besides being a people person, you need the creativity to come up with new or innovative business ideas that nobody else is doing. Any business in general is a gamble, and you need to keep a laser-like focus on the ultimate goal, which is locking in contracts at all costs!”

“In those early days I was prepared to get anything done to earn a living. As a result I came across other disciplines in the metalworking field that have led to me getting more involved with cutting and forming metal, in particular sheet metal, as well as fabrication and assembly.”

It snowballed from there. People found that Pillay could supply and deliver laser-cut parts quickly according to their spec, and they kept asking for more. A request for formed parts led to Pillay offering CNC press brake services. When the request came for welded parts, Pillay sought companies that could offer welding services.

A range of components that ONS Electrical and Engineering has processed for clients

The fabrication side of the business was growing, but it still lacked the equipment that would tie it all together and stick in people’s minds. 75% of turnover was coming from this side and Pillay needed to do something.

DNE fibre laser
“The timing of Covid was not great but we were still determined and we committed to purchasing a Bystronic DNE fibre laser with a bed size of 3 000mm by 1 500mm with a 3kW fibre power source. The machine was installed by the South Africa branch last year.”

“It might be that the machine is manufactured in China by DNE but the company is part of the Bystronic Group. Additionally, the laser machines are equipped with the world’s most advanced laser source from IPG Photonics, AC servo drive technology and electrical systems from Schneider and the highest quality heavy-duty Herion M3 helical rack and spur gears from Germany, capable of cutting stainless or carbon steel, aluminium, brass, copper, titanium and most metal alloys.”

“For mild steel, which accounts for about 30% of our cutting we cut up to 20mm, for stainless steel, which makes up the majority of the sheet that we process, we cut up to 12mm, aluminium up to 12mm as well and then we also do a small amount of copper and brass and go up to 8mm on these materials.”

“The laser is run on nitrogen and we have Air Products as our source for this.”

Kenny Pillay – owner of ONS Electrical and Engineering

“Since we installed it in our Tulisa Park, Johannesburg factory we have acquired a whole selection of new clients that are involved in manufacturing product that needs panelling DB boxes. We are also now able to offer our existing clients – Alstom’s Gibela is a big client of ours – new services especially as we have complemented the purchase with a welding department.”

“Going forward we are looking at purchasing our own press brake and we will be replacing our old CNC machining equipment with new equipment. A priority on this side is a lathe and a milling machine.”

“A machine shop or fabricator can buy and sell equipment. It’s just business, adjusting capacity to meet changing demand levels. But if a business decision involves a workforce change – that is, layoffs – it’s different. I’m sorry, but I can’t stand when people tell me don’t take it personally, it’s just business, because it’s not. Layoffs affect the company culture and change personal lives. It’s not a light decision.”

“I am an example. My life was thrown into turmoil. Fortunately I have survived.”

For further details contact ONS Electrical and Engineering on 072 398 9644 or visit www.onsee.co.za