Weir Minerals Africa invests to create world class machining centre

The shop floor monitoring system displays up-to-date machining  information electronically. The shop floor monitoring system displays up-to-date machining information electronically.

Weir Minerals Africa has embarked on a major investment programme to upgrade machining operations at its Isando manufacturing plant. The upgrade will not only increase supply capacity, but will support the safe production of high quality machined castings to the market through the introduction of world class process technology.

The upgrade involves the addition of new CNC machines and leading safety controls, together with heavy investment in new manufacturing technologies such as live shop floor control and monitoring, Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs) and next generation CAD/CAM software. In tandem with these improvements, a Machine Innovation Group (MIG) has been tasked with ensuring the facility stays up to date with the latest manufacturing trends.

Patrick Taggart, plant manager at Weir Minerals Africa’s Isando facility, explains the rationale behind the upgrade, “Every machine shop strives to offer customers the raw capacity to machine and the right process technology to machine productively and accurately, as well as the most appropriate form of organisational support to meet changing market needs. Most small to medium enterprise machine shops are able to provide their customers with machining capacity, but their equipment often comprises outdated and manual machines that are unsafe and highly dependent on operator skill. In addition, there is often little organisational support to ensure continuous improvement on quality, cost and delivery.

“Weir Minerals Africa prides itself on producing high quality components to support the performance of our products in the abrasive and corrosive environments in which they operate. To achieve this, we intend to push the manufacturing envelope to produce machine components with tighter dimensional tolerances and with ever more complex part geometries. This cannot be done by simply investing in standard manual machines; sufficient investment in process technology and organisational support structures is critical to attaining this objective, and this is where we have a competitive advantage.

“It’s really exciting to see our investment in people and technology paying off. Our shop floor monitoring system provides live web-based information on the status of our machines to any smartphone or device. Managers are able to react to problems even when they are not on the shop floor, simply by using their tablets or smartphones. We also display machining information electronically across the shop floor in real time to ensure collaboration among machinists. With the development of mobile apps, we’ll soon be able to link our machining information to real time client demand, part database software and information forums via a mobile network.”

The company has invested in CMMs to enhance measuring during the machining process. CMMs are far more sensitive than traditional measuring tools and have a higher reliability and repeatability, incorporating both scanning and probe measuring capability. Parts can be compared in real time to CAD models. This enables the manufacturing facility to machine and measure to smaller tolerances.

Underpinning the impressive investment in machining and measuring technology is the implementation of a series of upgrades to ensure operators are safe while machining. Coupled with stringent global safety standards, Weir Minerals Africa has invested in sophisticated safety controls to ensure that a safe operating environment is created and sustained. In terms of operator skills, the company has established external links with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) in the United States, which has developed online training programmes for machinists, in conjunction with an internal training programme managed through the MIG teams.

“The access we have to technology and people development platforms in our global environment today is nothing short of amazing,” Taggart concludes.

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