Conver-Tek MD Bevan Davis and production manager Barry Winter at the company’s new and far more spacious plant in Brakpan. The design and construction of the plant, part of an estimated R20-million project, is a major achievement by the Conver-Tek team. The company’s toolroom is however still operating from its premises in Elsburg and will only move over once a number of important tool building jobs have been completed
In very tough economic times, Conver-Tek has recently built a new R20-million factory facility to be able to expand and develop its vision and to remain competitive in the local and international market.
Exploding populations and competitive plastic related markets around the world rely on smart development and manufacturing to meet high-volume and quality fit-for-use products. In South Africa it is no different: here we have companies like Conver-Tek which design, develop and manufacture world-class tools, dies and injection moulds to rigorous demands of convertors in selected precise industries.
According to Bevan Davis, MD of Conver-Tek, the quality of the design, cooling, steels used and manufacture of moulds has an enormous bearing on the output and life of the mould as well as on the products made on the mould.
“That is why it is critical to make use of only the best designs, computer software, tool steels, cutting tools and toolroom machinery in their manufacture,” says Bevan, who was a founder member and past chairman of TASA Gauteng and is a director of the NTI (National Tooling Initiative), organisations which are committed to uplift and develop the toolmaking and support engineering industries.
Modern tool and die making is specialized and in many instances complex, with many interrelated requirements for specialized plastic engineered products.
“For example, a tool may be required for quality high-speed injection moulding of components using engineering polymers that must last through the entire life cycle of a product (sometimes for 10 years and even longer), while maximizing speed, quality, critical sizing, no runner wastage and minimizing costs, machine downtime, repairs to tools and production scrap.
“In order to achieve this one needs to understand the product requirements, fit for use plastic materials needed, production, manufacturing process and engineer tools in such a way that they deliver beyond the expectations of the client. We have tools that have delivered ±120 million units that can still produce to the original tight spec and quality. The long-term cost of the tooling into the product is a fraction of a cent versus the ongoing hidden added production costs of non-performing ‘cheap’ tools, scrap rates, trimming, fitment problems etc,” added Bevan.
Conver-Tek upholds the motto ‘what you put in is what you get out,’ and there is no such phenomena as a cheap quality tool, and Bevan is a firm believer in this principle. The company makes use of only the highest quality tool steel from its long-time supplier, Bühler Uddeholm.
“Depending on production requirements and expected tool life we use some tough high spec steels to build our tools. These steels are difficult to machine to precise detail with standard cutting tools. Here we make use of CNC Chamille spark erosion technology with delicate electrodes for precision detail. This of course increases the costs of the tools.
“We invest in recognized machine tools that are up to the precision toolmaking task and make use of the highest quality cutting tools and spark eroding equipment to build our tools.
“There is a good reason why we use the machines we do. They have been found to deliver the best performance for this type of work internationally and are up to the rigours of working the kind of materials that we do,” Bevan says.
The company’s machine shop makes use of Haas and Deckel CNC milling machines, Victor CNC lathes and CNC Chamille spark erosion equipment. Most of the cutting tools, on the other hand, are provided by Sandvik.
Concept to completion
Gone are the days of creating tools, dies and moulds over an extended period of time. Modern TDM is in itself becoming a highly technical production process nowadays. Customer demand calls for ergonomic design, rapid product development from concept, to prototype and end-product to compete with Chinese and Eastern opposition toolmaking companies.
“We prefer to compete in high-end, quality tools and production rather than compete in the low and cheap tools. We cooperate and make use of likeminded toolrooms who can support our business to reduce lead times and deliver quality tooling.
“Every aspect of tool, die and mould making requires expertise and it all begins with a fit-for-use precise design. This is achieved with the assistance of 3D modelling and CAD/CAM software. All parameters need to be taken into consideration and, when the final drawings are presented, will be taken to rapid prototype level. The exact dimensions and functions of the product can be provided using rapid prototyping. We have our own rapid prototyping machine, and where necessary we use bureaus for larger parts that have these larger growing machines. We prove the concept and design where possible as a working sample.”
From there it goes into the manufacturing process using the capture-approved CAD design data and it is machined to specification in the toolroom. After vigorous quality checks, the tool or mould will be delivered after it has been jointly trialed and commissioned by Conver-Tek’s staff and the customer to ensure it performs to the designed spec.
“We will supply all the production parameters to the client or produce for the client, to ensure that the tool is properly utilized to ensure it performs optimally,” Bevan adds.
Conver-Tek’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. A few years ago it was recognized by the University of Aachen of Germany, in conjunction with the University of Stellenbosch, who undertook benchmarking studies of South African tool, die and mould makers, comparing them with their European compatriots. The project was conducted on behalf of the National Tooling Initiative (NTI) recently.
“We, like toolmakers and convertors in Europe, have to compete against the Chinese and need to adjust performance to compete for the same slice of cake. Our design ability, quality and performance is our selling edge.”
More to Conver-Tek
There is more to Conver-Tek than manufacturing and supplying tools, die and moulds. The company is, in fact, its own best client, as it other core business is plastic injection moulding of components for the water and specialised engineering sectors. Besides fully assembled water meters, it produces parts for the armaments, medical, motor, electronics, pump and pool industries.
Although the divisions were started simultaneously and complement each other, they maintain a high degree of independence. Experience gained in the injection moulding production lines often transpires to improvement and optimization of services to customers on the tool, die and injection moulding side of things.
Conver-Tek is seen by many as an innovation house. Many of the products produced on the plastic and tooling side have stood the test of time and some have even changed our lives.
“We were one of the inventors of the original micro irrigation system and produced both the tooling for their manufacture and the end products ourselves. Although it has been widely copied and produced elsewhere in the world, it still makes use of our original concepts and materials used.
“We further developed the first plastic water meters for Meinecke in Germany that withstand 80-Bar burst pressure. This was considered impossible by their design engineers at the time.
“We also developed and produced the tooling, chose the materials and produced the legendary Kreepy Krauly pool cleaner for over 20 years. That revolutionized the way pools are cleaned around the world,” says Bevan proudly.
And the innovation doesn’t stop there. The company has produced many other ‘world first’ plastic development innovations. It designed and produced tamper-proof-all polymer water meters in housings for metropolitan municipalities in South Africa. The above-ground meter boxes and fittings are patented innovations of Conver-Tek and large volumes have been installed and used by the major metros. Export of these products is also a major focus.
A unique, internationally patented plastic solar geyser with PV power and combined water heating are in the pipeline and are being shown to interested concerns globally. A few new technologies in the challenging water industry to resolve ongoing problems are in an advanced stage of development. A new high-tech patented electronic fully automatic hunting bow sight has already been highly praised and tested by the current world champion. Production and tooling will begin in the next few months, mainly for export purposes.
“In order to compete in a global competitive marketplace dominated by countries with huge manufacturing infrastructures and budgets, we have had to keep innovating and producing new and better quality products locally than can be found anywhere else in the world in order to stay ahead of the pack,” concludes Bevan.