Two examples of competent engineering in South Africa

Buying new CNC machine tools that are automation-ready is a very good idea, even if you do not have plans to pair them with robots in the future. Although, the use of robots in a manufacturing situation is on the rise in South Africa, you will not find many in use in a machining shop environment, whether they are used for unmanned machining or used atop freely roving automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or being used in an automatic storage and retrieval system, or even just for basic machine tending.

What many don’t realise, in addition to safety improvements, uptime can be improved compared to manual loading and unloading times when using a robot. Robotic machine tending can be utilised for bin picking, grinding, milling, turning, polishing, welding, deburring and parts cleaning, wherever your imagination takes you.

This was the case for Vula Drilling, whose story you can read further on in the magazine. They had purchased a Doosan Puma SMX 3100S CNC mill-turn that was not setup for robotic association or tending. Not that this was an issue as a solution could be developed and implemented. But it was the time that it took to work out the solution and then hoping that it achieved the goal that you had set out with. And we all know time is money.

“It was a huge learning curve for all of us and we knew that the solution and software programming would be a first and unique to our situation but with adaptability and also be future relevant,” explained Director Otto Coetzer.

“When we began this automation project we had no experience with machine-tending robots. Some components are heavy, cumbersome or awkward for handling by humans, leading to increased worker injury and costly component damage. CNC machine handling robots can be configured with various mounting options to handle heavy payloads and reduce risks to employee safety. We have achieved both these goals and we have had fun doing it.”

What it did do though is point out that the use of robotics is scalable. You don’t have to be an automotive OEM to think that the robots are only used in that situation. As said the CNC machines come automation ready these days.

This is one story in the magazine that shows that South African engineering abilities are right up there with the best in the world. The second is the development of a leak-proof oxyfuel system for use when using compressed gas. First Cut, Messer Cutting Systems, Gas Safety International and BED have collaborated in developing a new safety valve, torch and process that will lessen the possibility of a gas leakage taking place due to either worker negligence or an accidental breakage in the compressed gas supply line.

Referred to as the Safety Advanced Technology (SAT) system, the development has been championed by Peter Rohlssen, Managing Director of Gas Safety International (GSI), a strong proponent of safety usage and training when using compressed gas in any situation, not just in the cutting sphere.

The system has been patented worldwide and it is another example of South Africa’s engineering abilities. But it is the passion of Rohlssen that shines through in this world first. Even though he is in his seventies, when most are retired, you would think he was just starting out in his business life. His experience in the field of gas usage in any situation and the safe use of the gases, is incredible, and he is adamant that stringent safety rules are critical when it comes to working with any gas or oxygen, irrespective of the sector.

His basic demonstrations with oxygen, argon, nitrogen and the LPG, that most of us use in our homes, and what and how quickly they can cause destruction and possible loss of life, left his conference attendees dumb struck.