KwaZulu-Natal-based automotive electronic components manufacturer Pi Shurlok, which is owned by JSE-listed Control Instruments Group, plans to diversify into the nonautomotive components manufacturing sector.
Pi Shurlok business development manager William Murray tells Engineering News that the company’s strategic move to diversify is in response to the global economic downturn in 2007 and 2008.
The economic crisis led to a slump in business and motivated the components manufacturer to reassess its focus on automotive components and branch out into the nonautomotive electronic components sector by becoming a contract manufacturer for a broader range of original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
Murray reports that the company’s focus on quality compliance and standards certifications throughout its manufacturing processes has enabled it to expand into the nonautomotive electronic components industry with ease.
“We have designed our engineering processes to be fully aligned with the procedures and practices of the various automotive OEMs. We have advanced product quality planning teams who are responsible for undertaking quality assessments, failure modes and effects analyses to help identify potential failures, based on similar past experiences and production-part approval process procedures,” he says.
Further, the company has strict in-house electromagnetic compatibility testing equipment to ensure that the products are not susceptible to outside influence and that they do not emit any electromagnetic influences.
The tests are based on automotive industry specifications as outlined by German safety monitoring agency TÜV and the German Association of the Automotive Industry, besides other specifications.
The lessons learnt from automotive industry specifications and Pi Shurlok’s lessons are applied to each new task being handled, says Murray.
Pi Shurlok GM Dion Hardy states the company aims to retain its quality standards, as well as reduce manufacturing costs and rationalise its activities to increase manufacturing capacity, while also extending its customer base in the industrial market, where it is seeking more business opportunities.
The company’s OEM component supply currently constitutes about 60% of its business, with the balance being components supplied to the non-OEM automotive sector.
The manufacturer plans to reach an equal 50% ratio between its automotive OEM supply and its non-OEM supply by diluting the non-OEM supply with nonautomotive components.
“Pi Shurlok’s immediate available manufacturing capacity is 47% and, as a result of its existing and established infrastructure, new production programmes can be implemented in a short time with minimal investment,” says Hardy.
The low- to medium-volume manufacturer provides a niche supply of electronic components for domestic OEMs and eight international clients in Europe, the Americas and Asia, including Japan.
Pi Shurlok exports about half of its components to the international market.
The company’s manufacturing facility, in Pietermaritzburg, comprises three separate flexible assembly plants and has a combined floor space of 8 300 m2. The facility includes surface mount device facilities, antistatic floors, cleanrooms and wave soldering equipment in inert environments.
There are four component production lines that populate circuit boards using component cassettes in a pick-and-place method. This is done by a fully automated or semi-automated system, depending on the component being manufactured.
Hardy notes that the more complex circuit boards manufactured by the company may contain more than 1 600 components each.
The automated production lines produce between 10 000 and 50 000 units a year, while the semi-automated lines produce up to 300 000 units a year.
Pi Shurlok’s facility follows lean manufacturing principles and a just-in-time delivery method, while the 220-strong staff complement follows the cell assembly structure.
The linear cell assembly structure places each staff member in charge of a range of tasks when moving between the cell structures and specific client instrument clusters.
This enables staff to acquire various skills, as well as familiarise themselves with the hardware, software, mechanical, illumination and visual aesthetic elements of the manufactured products.
Murray says that although it was a challenge for South Africa-based companies to be awarded contracts by global businesses in the past, Pi Shurlok has had significant success in acquiring contracts because of its modern facility and well-entrenched design and manufacturing processes.
The component manufacturer’s use of available government incentive schemes, such as the Motor Industry Development Programme and the Automotive Production and Develop- ment Programme, provides further value-add for its customers and has greatly supported the drive to localise more products in the South African market, he adds.
Plastic Injection Moulding
A further value-add for Pi Shurlok is its on-site plastic injection moulding facility, established in September last year, which produces plastic parts for specific customer instrument-cluster programmes.
Hardy notes that, previously, it was difficult and costly to import plastic components or transport them from the company’s plastic moulding facility in Port Elizabeth.
As a result, the manufacturer invested in a fully automated in-line plastic injection moulding plant to cater for the instrument cluster’s plastic-component needs.
Pi Shurlok was recently awarded a high-volume instrument cluster production programme by a large Pretoria-based automotive OEM.
“We are one of three global manufacturing sites for this new vehicle platform,” says Hardy.
The plastic injection moulding facility features individual automated dryers for each material type, a fully integrated material feeding system, robotics installed for the extraction of the moulded part, as well as conveyors.
The facility also features two 300 t KraussMaffei plastic-processing machines imported from Germany: one exclusively for use with polypropylene homopolymer materials and the other exclusively for use with polymethyl methacrylate materials.
“As a manufacturer for local and inter- national OEMs, it is imperative that we deliver a 99.6% first-time pass rate for our components, says Hardy.
He adds that the company, therefore, works in accordance with the IPC-A-610E inspection standard for the acceptability of electronic assemblies and the IPC 7711/7721 Rework, Modification and Repair of Electronic Assemblies Training and Certification Programme.
“For our own integrated projects, we have formal technical and commercial baseline management processes in place. These include design verification testing, acceptance test procedures and field trials, which use actual target vehicles and environments to test the components,” says Murray.