New laser profiling machines which will increase cutting speeds, reduce operating costs and allow a greater range of materials to be processed.
Every business owner understands the need to diversify. Many manufacturing shops originated as small moonlighting enterprises, making just a few parts for a single customer, and building a thriving business from such a small foundation certainly can be a matter of pride. However, continuing to rely too heavily on a single customer or a single industry is not part of a sound business plan.
Installed in April 2021 was a Bodor P3015 3kW fibre laser, which replaced the CO2 laser that the company had
VEB M.E is an engineering firm that provides design solutions to the unique requirements of a wide spectrum of customers. The fact that the company designs and manufactures industrial, beverage and food-grade conveyors while also manufacturing balustrades for another client, or industrial tanks for another client shows the diversification and variety of services that they do offer.
In November 2021 VEB M.E. installed its second Bodor laser. This time the company decided to go for a bigger format – both in table size and cutting power. The Bodor P4020 12kW fibre laser has a table size of 4m by 2m whereas the Bodor 3kW fibre laser has a bed size of 3m by 1.5m. Bodor is represented in South Africa by Integral Machine Tools
A walk through the 2 000m² facility reveals how diversified they are. Equipment here ranges from mills lathes and fibre lasers to press brakes, rollers, welders, bandsaws and other services such as shot and bead blasting. However, what truly sets this 75-employee company apart cannot be found in the equipment itself. The diversification and expansion of machining and fabricating capabilities have been driven in part by adhering to one central idea. As Brian du Preez, one of three partners in the business and the partner that takes the manufacturing side of the business under his responsibility, puts it: “Every part has its own identity – that is, a way to shape the metal that, at a particular point in time with a particular set of resources and customer requirements, is more cost-effective than any other option.”
The three partners: Brian du Preez, Vernon Brown and Grant Provan
Finding each part’s identity is a distinctive strength of VEB M.E.’s business. But how does a shop scale and diversify its capabilities without losing the full efficiency of each of those capabilities? How can capabilities as different as laser cutting and CNC machining be used effectively together within the same organisation? For VEB M.E the answer begins with a job quoting system that recognises and leverages the strengths of various manufacturing processes and equipment.
“A reliable supply network and specialised software that allows for delivery of projects with short lead times does help as well,” continued du Preez.
One of the services that VEB M.E. offers is machining
There is no bread and butter product of the company although it was established on manufacturing conveyor belt systems for the food and beverage industry.
The company has a proven track record with some larger firms in South Africa. They have supplied product to Rainbow Chicken, Eskort (South Africa’s leading pork manufacturer and home to South Africa’s best loved bacon and Gold Medal Pork Sausages), Enterprise Foods, Marel Foods, Pick n Pay, Coca Cola, Tiger Brands, Rossouw Meat and a number of other abattoirs.
Sheet metal components cut and ready for delivery
Others include Astral Foods, Dewcrisp Farms, Irvines Zimbabwe, New Concept Mining, Xstrata Alloys, Omaruru Namibia, Scaw Metals, Cast Products, Super Spar and Yume Sushi.
Bodor fibre lasers
Having said this fibre laser cutting and profiling of sheet metal is fast becoming the company’s bread and butter processing service. Installed in April 2021 was a Bodor P3015 3kW fibre laser, which replaced the CO2 laser that the company had and in November 2021 the company installed its second Bodor laser. This time the company decided to go for a bigger format – both in table size and cutting power. The Bodor P4020 12kW fibre laser has a table size of 4m by 2m whereas the Bodor 3kW fibre laser has a bed size of 3m by 1.5m. Bodor is represented in South Africa by Integral Machine Tools.
VEB M.E. offer many services and one of them is fabricating of large vessels/tanks
“Laser cutting and profiling is the first physical stage in the processing of sheet metal-based products and so any gains are felt throughout the manufacturing process. Modern technology in the lasers of today are estimated to improve average run times by 50% and bring the average machine running cost down by 67%,” continued du Preez.
“Our original laser had been worked very hard so it was time to replace it. The new generation of fibre lasers are faster machines, which means that we can continue to offer a competitive solution to our customers at a time when resource costs are rising. As well as being faster the machines are more comprehensive and more accurate, which allows us to build on our reputation of producing consistent quality products in high volumes.”
The welding department
“This new Bodor 12kW fibre laser will provide the company with a significant boost in productivity and allow us to offer better laser cutting lead times. Every increase in power delivers a cleaner cut edge, especially on mild steel, which forms the majority of our throughput. We can now cut mild steel up to 30mm thick.”
“Laser-cutting metal relies on a continuous supply of nitrogen gas as a blanket to prevent burning during the process. Purity of the gas is an important factor in overcoming the tendency for discolouration of laser-cut edges and to provide a high-quality finish. As well as these critical process requirements, it was important for us to achieve savings on the cost of delivered bulk nitrogen supplies.”
Cut to size is done on two Everising bandsaws supplied by First Cut
“For many years we had a bulk nitrogen supply agreement in place and were renting an on-site storage tank. The perceived benefits of this approach were: A large storage facility with the required nitrogen quality; a scheme cheaper to run than delivered bottled gas; no large capital outlay was involved and there were regular deliveries from the supplier.”
“However, for all these advantages there are evident drawbacks to the scheme. Rental costs and long contracts with 12 months’ minimum notice were the norm. Other negative aspects comprised the company’s dependence on on-site deliveries, the percentage of tank losses, environmental carbon footprint issues, and, ultimately, the total cost of a nitrogen supply.”
Manufacturing conveyor belt systems for the food and beverage industry is one of the company’s main products
“The alternative option of on-site generation had been considered for some while, but when we invested in the two new Bodor machines the decision was really taken out of our hands. It made no sense to carry on the way we were so we have now invested in a nitrogen generator.”
“It is our fascination with stainless steel that really gets this machine talking to us. 35% of our material profiling and cutting is now made up of stainless steel and as we grow we intend to grow this figure. Stainless steels are widely used in the food industry due to their inherent resistance to corrosion. It can be formed into complex shapes. Stainless steel can be cleaned and sterilised without deterioration. It also does not impart any colour and flavour to food, making it ideal for the food industry. With us supplying into the food industry more and more of our product requires stainless steel components. The 12kW Bodor cuts up to 30mm thick material, which is way above our current requirements for stainless. But at least we have the capability.”
VEB M.E. have built up a relationship with Marel Foods over the past 10 years supplying them equipment, stainless steel fabrications, structures and conveyors
“The main drive behind the investment in the two Bodor machines was efficiencies and productivity. What we also knew was that the machines would give us extra capacity especially if you analyse what the 12kW machine can do. Our own requirements will never keep the machine running 24/7 so the plan has been to seek new customers and extra work who might require laser cutting. We don’t intend to become a service centre but rather use our assets and excess capacity more effectively.”
In 2020 VEB M.E. installed a solar plant that consists of 270 solar panels on the roof that gives the company 100kVA of off-grid power. At the time the solar plant was the first 5G Solis inverter installed in South Africa. The project was constructed with full council approval, lightning risk assessment reports and implementation
“Of course the improved process speeds on the laser cutting will cause bottlenecks in downstream processing so we will have to address those logistics in the near future.”
“Although we are looking for growth in laser profiling and cutting a great strength of the company is all the other services that we do offer. We are not pigeon-holed into one area of industry or manufacturing.”
“We have provided engineering solutions to many various applications. A client can start off in our design department where we have five full time designers working. Using 3D AutoDesk Inventor Suite software, we are able to design and simulate customer requirements before the manufacturing process begins. We have found that this reduces our assembly and installation time, especially for the one off designs and projects.”
“This department does not just do design of product, but it is also very involved in electrical design if required for the product. For example all electrical requirements on our conveyors will be designed and specified by these guys.”
At the moment the company has a 50/50 split between processing material and fabrication
“Basically we are offering to put your concept or dream into practice or on the shelf. We will work with you to get your product into the market place.”
“If there is no laser work required then we can offer press brake bending on our Amada machine, cut-to-length with our two Everising bandsaws, machining on our lathes and machining centers, fettling, welding, shotblasting of mild steel components, bead blasting of stainless steel components, fabrication and of course assembly.”
“At the moment I would say there is a 50/50 split between processing material and fabrication.”
Loadshedding: 100kVA solar installation
“It is not a subject that we like to talk about but because of being in the same boat as everybody else, personally we had to address the constant interruptions to our working schedule while also looking to see where we could make monetary savings on our monthly power account.”
This large structure that is beginning its journey to be delivered at a client shows what VEB M.E. is capable of manufacturing
“In 2020 we installed a solar plant that consists of 270 solar panels on the roof that gives us 100kVA of off-grid power. At the time the solar plant was the first 5G Solis inverter installed in South Africa. The project was constructed with full council approval, lightning risk assessment reports and implementation.”
“At the same time we installed a 150kVA generator to provide back-up power for our machines.”
Besides du Preez there are two other partners in the business. Vernon Brown established the company in 2004 to offer turnkey solutions in the food industry, an industry that he was very familiar with because of the number of years that he had been working in it. Brown looks after the commercial side of the business.
With du Preez looking after the manufacturing side third partner Grant Provan takes care of administration and other logistical aspects of the business.
For further details contact VEB M.E. on TEL: 011 866 1199 or visit www.vebme.co.za