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Moving with new technology – and across Gqeberha

Home Business Management Finance & Investment Moving with new technology - and across Gqeberha

STARTING out in 2006 as a machine shop, AE Manufacturing moved to new, bigger premises in Deal Party earlier this year, out-growing its previous space in Perseverance. Making use of high-tech CNC technology, the family-run business still maintains its capacity for manual tooling and smaller jobs.

Founder, Andrio Els (pictured), says, “There will always be a need for basic machining for smaller repair servicing and this is how our company started, so we like to ensure we do not forget where we came from while keeping a close eye on the future.”

Supplying predominantly automotive customers, Els says that CNC machining is mandatory for the company to achieve high levels of accuracy and consistency in the work in which they specialise.

Although the capital cost of CNC machines is high, Els says that the output rate is higher and once AE Manufacturing’s skilled machinists have set up the machine, it runs unsupervised until the work is complete.

Apart from speed and precision, the data the machines can use to fabricate is another game-changer. Els explains, “We have in-house measuring capability utilising the latest 3D scanning and point measuring systems. This works hand in hand with the CNC machining and we use the same technical drawings in our measuring system to monitor the CNC’s output. A disadvantage of basic machining is that it’s not possible to achieve the same results on the first machining attempt.

“We are also capable of reverse engineering specialised parts by scanning them with our measuring system and transferring this data to our CNC machines to duplicate the part. This is particularly handy when a customer requires a spare and there are no drawings available,” Els says.

Operating these specialised machines requires new skills and Els says there is an international shortage of CNC machinists, so the company relies on its in-house training to fill the gap. “We believe in upskilling our staff and over the years trained basic machine operators to become highly competent CNC machinists.”

Various markets

In the automotive sector, Els says that he is expecting South Africa to continue producing internal combustion engines (ICE), although Europe is freeing up their Tier 2 capacity and gearing them to become EV component manufacturers. When local production shifts to electric vehicles (EVs), hybrids and new energy vehicles (NEVs) there will be changes. “We are expecting a decrease in the demand for catalytic converters, for example. However, we manufacture special-purpose machinery which we automate within our group and these are used in various aspects of the vehicle, including doors, bonnets and axles. These are common to ICE or EVs, so we don’t anticipate changes there.”

In addition to the automotive sector, the company also supplies the FMCG market and container insert manufacturers with end-of-arm tooling and manufacturing systems. It also supplies jigs and fixtures to a wide variety of industries.

Globally competitive

The 50-strong company is a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) based in South Africa and has to remain internationally competitive. “We are ISO9001 accredited which is internationally recognised and we are audited annually by an external auditor to ensure our quality and production methods align with what is expected of an international supplier,” Els says.

There is a drive to localise manufacturing in South Africa and this should benefit local businesses. “Our clients can benefit from preferential procurement through our group’s level 1 BBBEE company.”

On being based in Gqeberha, Els says, “The city is known as the “mini-Detroit of Africa” with many OEMs setting up in the region. It is advantageous to be on the doorstep of our customers to offer local short turnaround service and support.”

Running the business with his brothers, Jaco and Nico, Andrio admits that a family business has its challenges, but that “over the years, we have learnt not to mix the aspects of business with a healthy family life. When our cars are pointing home after a hard day, we focus on home; and when they are pointing towards work the next day, we focus on work,” he says.

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