I take you back in time. In fact nearly five years. The world sat transfixed in front of their TV’s watching a news story unfold where 33 men were about to undergo an ordeal the likes of which few suffer, and fewer survive. The next time they saw daylight, they would be global heroes, and their lives would never be same.
The collapse of the San José Mine in Chile on the 5th August 2010 became international news as the men were trapped underground for 69 days, battling starvation and hopelessness as the world waited anxiously for news of their rescue.
On October 13, the last of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped 630 metres underground for more than two months, was rescued. It was a painstaking and treacherous process to bring each one to safety, but it was successful thanks to the efforts of many and the technological advances in drilling equipment and search and rescue operations.
Weco repairs OEM rock drilling machines from the mines as well maintaining them and then returning them virtually as new to the clients who are involved in gold, platinum, manganese, diamonds and chrome mining operations
In this case, a rock drilling tool manufacturing company in the US produced the custom drills that were used to free the trapped miners. However, the near tragedy emphasised the importance of using equipment that was reliable and of a high quality, and when manufacturing and machining became perilously significant to the lives of 33 men.
It was one of the most incredibly positive stories of 2010. None more so than for the rock drilling tool manufacturer and for all those other companies involved in manufacturing the equipment used in the rescue.
It is coincidental that a couple of months before this rescue was seen and celebrated around the world, that Henry Gomes became involved in the South African mining industry. Even more so when you think that the company that he heads up is involved in the repair and service of rock drilling equipment, using locally manufactured component parts. Gomes has taken the same positive outcome and good news story into the company that he purchased, a company that was not on a strong footing five years ago.
“We like to associate ourselves with South Africa’s World Cup in 2010. We actually signed the legal documents on the very day that the opening ceremony took place. As the last signature was placed on the document, three men walked across the railway line outside the factory, blowing the jubilant and noisy vuvuzelas that were synonymous with the World Cup. Most non-soccer loving South Africans find this noise to be unbearable. For us, it will always be the sound of success. We have one covered in the South African flag’s colours that now takes pride of place in our boardroom,” explained Gomes.
Weco have invested in five new CNC machines, all purchased from Hurco South Africa
Docla Automatic, a precision engineering company was started in 1974, by two German Entrpreneurs, Hurbert Wiehl and Willie Kreutle, the company concentrated primarily on general engineering and later they formed Weco Mining to focus fully on manufacturing and supplying high precision component wear parts for the rock drilling industry.
“With the emphasis of the business squarely focused on the mining industry the primary emphasis was on after sales service and maintenance. Rock drills are always “almost new” as the mechanical parts are constantly being replaced and refurbished to keep the drifter in tip top condition.”
“The Germans were very successful at engineering, business and sales and when they decided to retire a management buy out was effected with the existing senior team. This however was not successful and within the year both Hubert and Willie were back at the helm of a much reduced business under severe pressure. Shortly afterwards Willie died after a short illness and Hubert was left alone to run the business, this being his primary reason for selling I suppose” says Gomes.
“That was about the time that I came into contact with the company. More than 80% of its turnover came from one middleman customer and they only employed 11 full time staff. The market and customers were unknown to me. Inside the factory there was a treasure trove of machinery and tools and perhaps it was this factor and the chance to own and play with all these machines that was the deciding factor reason for me to seek a way to purchase the company.”
“I have a millwright qualification and had previously been involved with a company that manufactured equipment for the refrigeration industry, so the engineering side was not as daunting as finding the finance was.”
Components that have been machined from billet
Weco manufacture a comprehensive list of spare parts, tailor made for various OEM rock drilling machines from around the world. At any one time Weco could have up to 1 000 different components in their stores.
“It was 2009, just when South Africa was starting to feel the crunch of the world financial crisis. We needed to borrow money to fund the purchase of the company. We were turned away time after time and the naysayers were out in force, saying we should not have such big dreams, we should be careful with our money, be happy with what we have and make do like everyone else.” “We took it very personally, but it made us even more determined to succeed.
We eventually found our way to Grofin’s door and the finance was arranged, contracts signed and ultimately that is when the hard work started.”
“The niche engineering products were a challenge for us, we had never heard of a drifter and had only passing knowledge of hydraulics. Within the first week of taking over, the reality set in when we realised that most of our plans and dreams were not possible with the current set up and we had to reinvent the company from the ground up. The company had no records to speak of and we had to recreate two years of financials into our accounting software, just to create a stock picture of which customers purchased what products.”
“The machine shop was a mess, aging equipment and tools, no OHS or safety records and with no work flow or organizational planning. Components were all over the place and can you believe it – the accounting records were still being carried out manually in what seemed like a system from the 1950’s. There was one computer, but it was hardly used, and was soon tossed out with the rest of the scrap metal that was lying around.
One of the latest additions to the shopfloor is a Hurco VMX 42Mi
“The biggest challenge was with the staff, none of whom had any knowledge of the takeover, and who were understandably very worried and unhappy with the announcement. They felt betrayed as some of them had been working for the company for more than 25 years. Most of them were not cooperative, but we realised that they were driven by fear and did not understand what had just happened to them.”
Education and goal setting
“If we were to position ourselves as the industry leaders, we would need high caliber staff with exceptional technical skills. South Africa, like most countries in the world today, faces a shortage of technical skills. This is also made worse by our poor education system. When we took over, some of our work force were illiterate and none had critical thinking skills. But this has all changed.”
“In 2011 we formed the Weco training centre and employed a full time in-house teacher to focus on basic English reading and writing and mathematics skills.”
“At the same time, we introduced the Success Motivation Institute and the Leadership Motivation Institute programmes to open up the minds of our staff to the potential they had hidden deep inside. The executive took on a Dynamics of Personal Goal setting course. All of this has resulted in the company being awarded the World Client of the Year for 2014 by the SMI, an award that was presented to us in San Antonio, Texas, USA recently. We are very proud of this achievement as we were up against companies and organisations from 70 countries.”
“We believe in Nelson Mandela’s philosophy of: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. We use these programmes throughout the business. We have even started training apprentices. The Department of Labour laughed at us when we approached them to register our first apprentices in 2011. They said we were too small. We have since been registered with Merseta, qualified our first two apprentices, and a further four are presently being trained.”
“With each drifter costing between R800 000.00 and R1 million to replace, it’s important for the mines to optimize their maintenance spend and to get as much use out of the equipment as possible. We carefully examine each and every individual component and we are able to offer a service to refurbish some parts, instead of replacing them. Ensuring that the refurbished parts are in accordance with the original OEM specifications.
Weco have a further two Hurco machines, both of them CNC turning centres
The first of the recent purchases at Weco was a Hurco VMX 42m CNC vertical machining centre
“The repair process starts in what we call our drifter shop, which is in a completely separate building from the machine shop and stores. Here the machine is stripped, cleaned, photographed and quoted. Each machine is housed in its own booth and all components are clearly marked so as to match up with that individual machine. Once stripped, each component is then measured and tested to see if it is within the OEM specifications. The decision is then taken to replace or refurbish. After the repair is completed, the machine is then reassembled and tested under pressure for leaks. In accordance with our ISO 9001 accreditation our repair process is strictly controlled. We pride ourselves on our quality parts and service, which is ensured by quality assurance hold points at every step of the repair and manufacturing process.
Our clients can be found where ever trackless mining takes place. If the client is drilling rock to produce ore, it is likely they are using one of the two main suppliers drills and rigs. Our clients are involved in gold, platinum, manganese, diamonds, copper and chrome mining operations. Currently we do not have a footprint is in iron ore and coal mining, but we are working on that.”
“We manufacture a comprehensive list of spare parts, tailor made for various leading brands of rock drilling machines from around the world. At any one time we could have up to 1 000 different components in our stores. We manufacture in economical batches and aim to hold stock of all top moving items to serve both our own repair facility and our spare parts customers.”
“We locally manufacture the majority of the component parts in our machine shop and rarely if ever import parts from overseas equipment manufacturers. This assists us to control costs as well as lead times, and both advantages are passed directly onto our customers. Lead time is a critical concern for mines as lost drilling time equals lost production at the rock face and cost the mines millions of rands daily.”
“All of our parts have been engineered in house from our own drawings. We currently use SolidWorks™ for this and fully integrate with our CNC production lathes and milling machines. Manufacturing our own parts allows us to control the quality of the parts used in our repair process.”
“The shop offers various part-production options. Our turning machines can go up to 300 dia x 1 000mm, our milling machines up to 1 000 x 400 x 400mm, and on grinding, we do external and internal grinding with a maximum length of one metre and 10 microns.”
Directors Dumisani Zungu and Henry Gomes
“We now have eight CNC lathes, five CNC milling machines, five grinding machines, two broaching machines, a gun drilling machine and eight conventional machines. Additionally we have a guillotine and a press brake when we need to some fabrication work for clients.”
“As a full service precision engineering facility we are able to manufacture a wide range of components on our machines. The only components that are outsourced at this stage are gear cutting and heat treatment. We are fully in control of the quality process even when the part is off site. All our suppliers are accredited in accordance with our ISO standards. The spare parts and components that we manufacture include valves, connection plates, couplings, covers, piston guides, bushings, liners, rings, studs, bolts, drivers, chucks, flanges, shanks and seals.”
Although there was a treasure trove of machines on the machine shop floor when Gomes acquired the company, he has not stood still in improving his machining operations. Added to the mix since taking over are five new CNC machines, all purchased from Hurco South Africa.
The first to arrive was a Hurco VMX 42m vertical machining centre.
“We chose Hurco because of the ease of use, especially with the controls, and they are very cost effective. Times were not so easy in 2013 and 2014, but we continued to invest in the business because we knew if we were to succeed and be recognised for our quality and service, then we would have to bring in modern equipment and manufacturing processes.”
Another component being machined at Weco
Subsequently Weco has purchased a Hurco VM 10i, a Hurco TM 10i, a Hurco TM 12i, and the latest investment is a Hurco 42 Mi. All machines are running in conjunction with EdgeCAM’s machining package.
Government compliance and growth
The growth is counted in numbers at Weco but it is not the only focus. By South African standards, the company is a medium size company, increasing the staff from 11 to 74 and more than tripling the turnover in the first five years. “Our aim now is to continue to grow generically at 30% per annum.”
“We have transformed ourselves into a semi corporate structure, with an external board of directors to guide us. We have sold 20% of our company to a black investor, to comply with Governments affirmative action policies. We are now accredited with a Level 2 BBBEE certificate. A further 6% has been donated to an education trust that provides bursaries for under privileged youth to attend universities and to study towards mechanical engineering degrees.”
“We have invested heavily in staff training and wellbeing and converted our audit from 10% compliance to 87% for occupational health and safety. At the end of 2014, we conducted an engagement survey to evaluate how happy our staff were. I am pleased to tell you that Weco enjoys a 65% engagement, while South Africa generally only records 10% and the world average is only 13%.”
New investment and broadening of scope
“We have always realised that we have been limited in our product and client portfolio. In fact, we only have 15 major mining clients, but they do keep us busy.”
“We recently concluded a deal with a company in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, known as Tax Industrial, who supply industrial clients, such as the sugar, oil and gas, water and power industries with a range of Impact gland packings, Ludas couplings, Syntho glass pipe repair kits, scrapers, stainless steel strainers, polyurethane accessories, flexible couplings, bellows, mechanical seals and gaskets.”
“We have one thing that our opposition does not, a team of dedicated and passionate people all focused on our vision of 20:20. With this team who are as passionate about our growth as we are, we cannot fail. We use the term Rock Solid Dependability™ regularly as both a measure of a job well done and as a promise to our customers of what they can expect from Weco.”
For further details contact Weco on TEL: 011 762 4341 or visit www.weco.co.za