Simmer Engineering, a family-owned business, develops into an integrated fabrication and machine shop.
Nine out of ten business owners of privately run companies really don’t know or understand what they have done to be successful, and in most cases, they have not developed a succession plan for the business. Through shear hard work and dedication to the business it has generally grown and become a prominent entity. Continuing his legacy is far from the owners mind. All he is concerned about is getting the work out, not letting his clients down and the taxes he has to pay.
Unfortunately ill health of the ‘champion’ can be disastrous and leave the business and, the family involved, in a precarious position with financial implications. On the other hand if a younger family member gets involved with the business, new ideas and concepts that will challenge conventional thinking could provide the business with a new edge and lead it into a growth phase.
Alex Carswell, Alan Joseph, Haralambos Mandilas and John van der Merwe Junior
“Dad first started working for Simmer Engineering when he was 23. The company was founded by Haralambos Mandilas 40 years ago, who is still very much involved in the business, even though he is 73 years old now. Mandilas, of Greek descent, is a master artisan and a mentor to many of us that are employed here,” said John van der Merwe, who has the same name as his father.
“Mandilas and Dad came to an arrangement in 1998 whereby he acquired the company from Mandilas, who was more interested in working on the shopfloor and getting his hands dirty than trying to run the business as well,” said John junior.
“The arrangement has worked very well for both parties with the business growing from a small company that originally occupied a 250 m² facility and is now housed in four different units that total 4 000 m² under roof.”
“Sadly Dad took ill two years ago and was forced into early retirement. This set the company back but with Mandilas still very much involved it meant that the company did not lose focus and continued operating.”
“However it did mean that someone would have to take over at the helm. Fortunately I had just obtained my Mechanical Engineering degree from North West University (Potchefstroom Campus). As a result I was thrown in at the deep end – that was two years ago when I was only 21.”
The new Victor Vcenter 165 vertical machining centre that Simmer Engineering has purchased from Victor Fortune South Africa has a 1,650 mm X-axis travel, 850 mm Y-axis and 900 mm on the Z-axis. In addition this machine has heavy-duty spindle roller bearings, a 2 speed gearbox for high torque machining and three axis box guideway construction. It is also equipped with a 4th-axis which has opened up new machining avenues for Simmer Engineering.
“I did not have any practical experience working as an adult but from a young age every opportunity I had I would be at the company. So my introduction to the company was relatively smooth because I knew most of the staff and I had a good idea of the various manufacturing processes. The time spent previously at the company was not wasted because I used to love to try and make things and work on the machines. Nevertheless it was an unfortunate way to become fully involved with the business and I knew I had to be positive and not let Dad down.”
“I knew how hard he had worked over the years and how much the business meant to him. That spurred me on to continue his legacy and assume a leadership role at the shop.”
Fully aware that a young upstart could be disruptive to a business that had been running very successfully, John Junior was however determined to make the company more efficient and to maximise productivity and profitability.
The Victor Vturn-45 CNC lathe has a 2200 mm Z-axis travel, which is ideal for Simmer Engineering’s shaft work.
“Within a few months of joining I knew changes would have to be implemented that could make us far more efficient, just by improving our methods and workflow.”
“Improving your business with technology takes a different form for everyone, and there is no one thing that will magically solve your issues overnight. Each of us has to find our own solution for our own circumstances. The one thing that does apply to all of us is that if we fall too far behind the technology curve, we will be out of business. As difficult as it is to keep a business running effectively these days, I suspect that there is a greater burden for large organisations and the individuals who are responsible for them, especially with the scenarios that take place in South Africa today.”
The new Victor Vturn-36, the smaller of the two CNC lathes that Simmer Engineering has purchased has a 1255 mm Z-axis travel and at the moment it is churning out aluminium sleeves
“With a current staff compliment of 77, which will increase by 10 percent in the near future, it has been a relatively simple task in getting everyone to adapt to new ideas and methods as they realise it is beneficial to everybody.”
“The majority of the staff have been with Simmer Engineering for a number of years and there is a good mix between experience and youth, which helps in transferring skills. We have also implemented training programmes that will upskill many of the younger staff.”
Working smarter, not harder or even faster
“Continuous improvement is more than just a buzzword in the company. It has become a critical strategy. I do not expect miracles to happen overnight but as long as the concept and desire to keep improving stems from the belief that a company must advance is embraced by everybody, then management is happy.”
“The biggest task was to analyse all systems and make sure they truly support the needs of the company. All systems should be challenged to ensure their continued existence is justified. Often, they become unwieldy, and their original purpose is unclear to many. A periodic review of all active systems, whether they are paperwork, computer, communication, or document-control related, will help determine whether they are helping or hurting a company.”
Simmer Engineering operates a Kanban production strategy enabling them to deliver popular high running items within 48 hours. To achieve this they keep fully machined components in stock. “We know it costs us money but we would rather have the 96% on time delivery record as well as satisfy our client’s needs.”
“I regard Simmer Engineering as a light to medium precision general engineering company. We offer a variety of specialised services, but the emphasis is on machining castings and from solid, with a sizeable amount of frequently repeating work.”
“Up to 9500 components, which includes covers, shafts, shaft sleeves, lantern rings, stuffing boxes, seal rings, glands, neck rings, impellers, expellers and other pump components in a variety of materials, can pass through the shop in a month.”
The company sources its own castings from Knights Sales, Concorde, Forbes Brothers, Lusafrica, Kimberley Engineering Works and Dujva Foundry
“The challenge is monitoring this amount of components that flows through the shop. As a result, we have had to implement more effective job scheduling and tracking but with flexibility embedded.”
“In addition to streamlining scheduling we can now capture the true costs of jobs more accurately, rather than going by gut feeling. You soon find out which jobs are money makers and those that are unprofitable.”
“But our biggest focus has been on the processes that add value, such as machining or assembling products, and reducing waste. There are a few ways that have helped us to make significant improvements so that we are now down to a scrap rate of about 200 components per million and a 96% on time delivery schedule.”
“One has been to introduce new machines and the other is to reduce setup and running times, which has seen a 15% improvement. To accomplish this we now use the Mastercam machining programme.”
Simmer Engineering still have a number of conventional machines on the floor performing specific operations such as peeling and pre-machining of shafts
“The setup operation is a critical step in any cutting or forming operation. On one hand, the workpiece must be set up accurately to achieve the correct dimensions, but on the other hand, it needs to be efficient to maximise productivity. Setup errors are one of the main causes of producing out-of-tolerance parts. At the same time, the economic impact of the setup operation is significant because it involves both direct labour and machine time.”
“We still have a number of conventional machines on the floor performing specific operations such as peeling and pre-machining of the shafts. We will continue to operate in this way because this type of operation does not require a CNC machine, especially if you take into account the economics of buying a new machine.”
Simmer Engineering has a Kheung Point U7 CNC unversal milling machine supplied by Machine Tool Promotions on the shopfloor
“We have had a CNC machining cell for a number of years. It comprises four Mazak Nexus lathes and a Goodway lathe and they perform various operations on the smaller component side. We are limited to turning operations and of course they are relatively small sized machines.”
“Then we have a Victor 2-axis CNC lathe model TNS 5, which I believe was first launched by Victor in 1988. We acquired it in 1997 and it is still working to its maximum today.”
“We realised that if we wanted to expand the business and improve productivity and quality we would have to invest in some of the latest CNC machines available. In the last six months
we have purchased a Victor Vcenter-165 machining centre, a Victor Vturn-45 CNC lathe and a Victor Vturn-36 CNC lathe.”
Simmer Engineering has had a CNC machining cell for a number of years. It comprises four Mazak Nexus lathes and a Goodway lathe and they perform various operations on the smaller component side
“This is first time that we have ventured into the machining centre arena and along with the two new Victor CNC lathes, besides the higher productivity they have opened up new areas of machining for us. We are now able to machine larger castings, shafts and from solid.”
“The Victor Vcenter 165 has a 1,650 mm X-axis travel, 850 mm Y-axis and 900 mm on the Z-axis. In addition this machine has heavy duty spindle roller bearings, a 2 speed gearbox for high torque machining and three axis box guideway construction. It is also equipped with a 4th-axis which opens up even more avenues for us.”
Metal coating of components is a service that Simmer Engineering offers
“The larger size lathe – the Victor Vturn-45 – has a 2200 mm Z-axis travel, which is ideal for our shaft work. The Victor Vturn-36 has a 1255 mm Z-axis travel and at the moment it is churning out aluminium sleeves for us.”
“The improvements in this department – they are set up in their own dedicated building – have been tremendous. They have been so good that we are now exploring the option of acquiring two more vertical machining centres and a horizontal machining centre.”
“An example of our improvement is a high chrome application that used to take us three days which now only takes us half a day. The new machines, coupled with using the correct tooling, machining software and tooling systems, has allowed us to make these dramatic improvements.”
“Other machines that we have purchased are a conventional boring mill and two new grinding machines. In total we now have 61 machines.”
“The protective coating of machined components, assemblies and fabrications in order to enhance their functional properties has been a service that we have offered for some time. We offer both ceramic and stelite coating applications”
Components that have been either ceramic or stelite coated
“Most ceramic coatings are electrically nonconductive (making them excellent insulators), have a significantly higher level of abrasion resistance than most metals, and are capable of maintaining their integrity under severely elevated temperatures.”
“Stelite coating involves the application of wear and corrosion resistant alloys to components manufactured from soft, wear-susceptible base metals. These coatings significantly increase resistance to the principal forms of wear, encountered in extreme industrial environments, namely high temperature, corrosion and abrasion.”
Fabrication and castings
“Although we do not have any major fabrication equipment because we are not in the business of fabricating high volume runs of components, fabrication and assembly has grown into a sizeable portion of the business. This is accomplished by outsourcing the plate or laser components that we need and then we weld and fabricate. This department has its dedicated facility as well. The less contamination between the departments the better.”
The first CNC machine that Simmer Engineering purchased was a Victor TNS-5 CNC lathe in 1997
“We must be one of the few companies around that sources our own castings. Usually a client will supply and a shop will perform the machining operations. What it means is that we are virtually able to offer a same day service to our clients. We operate a Kanban production strategy. Enabling us to deliver popular high running items within 48 hours. To achieve this we keep, fully machined components, in stock. We know it costs us money but we would rather have the 96% on time delivery record as well as satisfy our client’s needs.”
“The staff have all bought into these concepts and ideas that have been introduced. What is more important though is that it has placed the business into a space where we can now achieve the various quality and control accreditations.”
“In April this year we hope to be awarded with ISO 18001 and by August we are going to have ISO 9001 in place.”
“Going forward we strive to understand and meet the demands of our clients so that we can offer them the best service possible”
For further details contact Simmer Engineering on TEL: 011 865 3403.