Procon Industries begins to thrive on its own

Claude Gelderblom has been around in the metalworking and machining industry for close to 30 years. His life in the industry began when he started his millwright apprenticeship in the mid-90s at AMG Engineering, a company that was based in Booysens on the outskirts of central Johannesburg. Gelderblom subsequently spent time at Iscor Vanderbijlpark Works before the company was acquired by LNM Holdings in February 2003.

“In December 2004 Ispat International NV acquired LNM Holdings NV, the parent company of Iscor Limited. By the time of the acquisition I had already qualified as a millwright.”

“After the acquisition, the merged company’s name was changed to Mittal Steel Company NV. Ispat Iscor Limited commenced trading under the new name Mittal Steel South Africa Limited in March 2005. After the merger between Mittal Steel and Arcelor Mittal Steel South Africa the company commenced trading under the new name – ArcelorMittal South Africa – in October 2006.”

Procon Industries owner Claude Gelderblom

“When I worked at Vanderbijlpark Works there were 28 000 employees at that site alone. The website now says they have over 6 000 employees – a huge difference.”

“However, my early networking in the area did give me an introduction to tender for business at the company and they are now a client of mine. It is not unusual that this situation happens, as long as you remain on good terms.”

“In my case I did not leave purely for a better wage. Instead I left because the next job was more challenging and offered me the chance to experience and learn more about machining or machine tool technology.”

“After leaving ArcelorMittal South Africa I spent time at Sturrock and Robson before moving to Towmaster, a company that manufactured towbars. I then did a complete flip in that I moved from machining to selling carbide products for the metal cutting industries, the products I used on a regular basis while operating the machines.”

“In more ways than one this was a big change. It was not a case of just changing focus or reinventing myself as I had the subject knowledge but I had to learn how to become a sales person. I was up to the challenge and it resulted in me spending five years with Pilot Tools.”

One of the company’s recent purchases is a Leadwell V-50L CNC vertical machining center

The company has also purchased a Leadwell T-8XL CNC lathe supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools

“From there I decided to join the family business, a machining job shop business that my father had established. By the time I joined my three brothers were already employed at the company.”

“But…should you work with family members? The answer may not be so simple – and many business owners are split on the issue. Mixing business with family can be tricky to navigate as a business owner, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid loved ones in the professional environment at all costs. In fact, these multifaceted relationships can give you a leg up against your competition. If you set some clear expectations right from the get-go and follow these few tips, you might find yourself swimming in success – with the people you love swimming with right along with you!”

“The company was equipped with conventional equipment and it only acquired its first CNC lathe in 2007. This gave me the opportunity to really learn my way around CNC equipment. Besides interacting in many other aspects of business.”

“To me the crux of any successful enterprise is communication. Experience has taught me that a policy of inclusion is always more successful than one of exclusion. From the front office to the shipping dock, I believe it’s in every company’s best interest to entwine its workers into the goals, direction, and condition of the company.”

A component recently machined

The company also makes use of conventional machining equipment

“This concept did work for the company for a number of years but as time went on the family connection began to wane. I left the company in 2019 having already registered Procon Industries in 2017. My father has subsequently retired to the Eastern Cape and in all essence I am now filling his gap.”

“We are based in Vereeniging and operate as a contractor and jobbing shop business. The contractor side is where as best possible we will take on the whole operational side of the contract, from the civils to erection to hiring the labour and everything in between. This will include the site work and construction requirements.”

“We don’t do the work ourselves but rather source the sub-contractors needed and project manage the whole operation. Labour could include journeymen, boilermakers, electricians and millwrights, all trades that would be needed to erect a structural steel building for a laser cutting company, for example.”

“If the example was contract, then in that case we would also source the structural steel and any other materials required. Even all the machined components needed.”

Procon Industries has conventional milling options with a Pinnacle milling machine

Procon Industries likes to be versatile in what it offers. The recent purchase of CNC equipment gives it many more options

“We have lists of suppliers, sub-contractors and tradesmen that we call on as soon as we get a contract. Fulfilling a contract to project manage and deliver is never a small undertaking. Inevitably subcontractors don’t deliver and you are left hanging. In addition to being at the mercy of its subcontractors’ lead times, we have to deal with their quality, which often wasn’t sufficient.”

“Generally though, this works well for them and for us except on the machining side. It is not as though we have been let down – we just feel we can do a better job, especially with my experience in machining.”

Installation of two Leadwell CNCs
“While fulfilling the various projects we had won we had been building up our own machine shop, with the ultimate goal of machining and related services being the primary function of Procon Industries.”

“We started off small with a couple of conventional lathes and a milling machine. We won various contracts, one in particular being at ArcelorMittal South Africa where we are on-site doing welding, fabrication and repair services. Our subcontracting experience helps in this regard.”

“However, it is the repair and wear part componentry business, also for ArcelorMittal South Africa, that has added value to the company. If we could not machine the required component ourselves we would outsource it and this is the work that we want to bring inhouse. Hence the purchase of two new CNC machines.”

Repair and machining of wear parts is a service the company offers

The company does not just offer machining services. Testing and assembly can also be done

“CNC machining often conjures up the thoughts of a broadly focused job shop. Yet a significant amount of machining is also performed by manufacturers focused on niches or specialties. For these shops, success is often found not just in the machining but also in the capabilities that can be built on it. This means telling our story requires this allowance. Machining technology does not have to refer strictly to just the CNC machine tools. In the case of our facility we want the company’s value-added capabilities to constantly drive it forward and further into its customers’ supply chains.”

“I have been around long enough to know that having just an operator on the machine, especially an expensive one, is not profitable. In the past the artisans and journeymen were more than operators. But those generations have either died, are retired or are about to retire. Their transition into CNC machining either did not happen or there was plenty of resistance.”

“You could live with those generations because of their skill, know-how and life experiences. With the introduction of CNC came many advantages but it also segmented people into pockets, in my opinion. They lost the skill of being a draughtsman and operating the machine, for example. They now do one or the other and don’t have the conceptualisation of a drawing. You could say the same about writing a programme or being a tool setter.”

Fabricated plate ready to be delivered

“We have the capability to repeatedly execute pre-programmed cutting routines. Rather, we will seek out low-volume work, prototypes, one-offs, repairs and other low-volume jobs that present opportunities to skip the programming phase and win the race to final part.”

“I am sure this is not just unique to our profession. We need to encourage our artisans to be more interactive with manufacturing the component from design to finish and not just standing there and pushing a button in between loading and unloading a piece of metal.”

“This goes for welders, operators, machinists and programmers. Every order is not going to be a production order churning out the same component. One-offs and reverse engineered components are all part of the mix and are more important to machining companies and their clients.”

“We have installed a Leadwell V-50L CNC vertical machining center and a Leadwell T-8XL CNC lathe, both supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools. The machines were installed in September last year and at this stage will cover all the machining work that we were getting done outside.”

Welding and fabrication done by Procon Industries

“Repair and replacement parts present still more opportunities to profit from.”

“The machining center has XYZ travels of 1 270mm by 635mm by 610mm and a table size of 1 420mm by 610mm. We have added an extra axis (4th axis rotating) on this machine and a Renishaw probe for checking.”

“The Leadwell T-8XL CNC lathe is one of the larger linear way models from Leadwell and has a powerful motor configuration, a 1 050mm turning length, a maximum swing of 670mm and a A2-8/77mm bar capacity.”

Turning and machining
“As I said earlier, I want people with the rare expertise and raw passion that those previous generations had and turned those handwheels into profits but now in the era of CNC.”

Procon Industries owner Claude Gelderblom is qualified as a millwright but has also sold cutting tools for Pilot Tools. He has the ability to assess the complexity of a request and provide a satisfying solution

“We have the capability to repeatedly execute pre-programmed cutting routines. Rather, we will seek out low-volume work, prototypes, one-offs, repairs and other low-volume jobs that present opportunities to skip the programming phase and win the race to final part.”

“Repair and replacement parts present still more opportunities to profit from.”

Aside from the shop itself, the first thing a visitor might notice when visiting Procon Industries is the leafy and spacious environment. The company is based on Gelderblom’s large plot in the suburbs of Vereeniging and offers an outdoor feeling rather than being stuck in a factory or industrial complex.

For further details contact Procon Industries on TEL: 016 004 0172