Local metalworking company Thomas Foundry is set to improve and increase the efficiency of its metalworking and manufacturing processes with the purchase of four new induction furnaces.
The order was placed in September last year to replace three decommissioned furnaces – a 1 t furnace and two 5 t furnaces – with two 6 t furnaces, as well as a 1 t furnace and a 500 kg furnace.
The company expects the delivery and installation to be completed by the end of next month.
These furnaces will reduce electricity consumption and improve overall casting quality by reducing metal holding times, as well as improve environmental compliance and productivity. It will also reduce maintenance costs.
“Some of the equipment was 30 years old, so from a risk-management point of view, access to spares was becoming difficult. Using the new furnaces, it’ll take 90 minutes instead of five hours to do a full meltdown,” enthuses Thomas Foundry CEO Clayton Anderson.
He adds that, over and above the expected improvement in the quality of the metals being made, the company’s overall melting capacity will increase by 2.5 t.
The new furnaces will also allow for more flexibility, as the company can do trial runs using smaller amounts of metal, which was not an option before.
As the previous 1 t furnace was decommissioned, the company’s smallest furnace is currently about 3 t. The smallest amount of metal that can be melted in such a furnace is 1.5 t – it would not be economically viable to melt any amount lower than that in a trial run, says Anderson.
All the furnaces were imported from melting, holding, pouring and heating systems provider Inductotherm, in the US.
To improve quality and minimise the company’s impact on the environment, Thomas Foundry also invested in a new generation sand-reclamation plant that incorporates advanced technology for the recovery, grading, cooling, classifying and cleaning of its foundry sand and reuse in the moulding process.
The decision to acquire such a plant was, firstly, to improve the company’s sand use levels and take advantage of a cost-saving opportunity on the dumping thereof. Sand dumping had reached about 30% of sand use and, in addition to the cost of its transportation and use, would be too excessive for the company.
Anderson maintains that halving this cost will allow for significant savings, which the company achieved.
The investment will also allow for cost-saving opportunities in terms of buying and using chemicals, additives and chromite sand, which he stresses can be a considerable expense.
Secondly, the quality of sand used in the casting and moulding process will improve to a well-rounded sand grain. Anderson illustrates that this results in a superior surface- finish quality in the metals produced, as the updated plant has already started producing better-quality castings.
Thirdly, the environmental improvements will constitute the more efficient use of resources, particularly in terms of reducing dust emissions from the plant.
Anderson stresses that these kinds of investments are crucial for local foundries to continue operating in a difficult economic environment.
Meanwhile, he points out that there were about 500 foundries operating locally 30 years ago, compared with about 120 active foundries currently. Over the past 12 months, four well-established foundries have gone into business rescue or have closed their doors, he adds.
“Future prospects for the local industry depend on what government does over the next six to 18 months to create an investment friendly climate. We believe that the railway and renewable-energy sectors offer attractive opportunities to the local foundry market. We are discussing opportunities with a number of role-players, and are planning to expand our product range into these sectors.”
He adds that the local industry has been hampered by a number of challenges. This includes a lack of work owing to excessive imports; State-owned enterprises with monopolistic pricing powers; lack of dependable electricity supply, among others.
“Foundries that haven’t made this kind of investment over the past five years are closing down. The local industry is in survival mode, and before you thrive you’ve got to survive. There are pockets of opportunity, so we will build from there. Thomas Foundry is also currently pursuing opportunities for export of product to the US,” he concludes.