The South African machine tools industry is slowing down in certain areas, particularly in terms of supplying products and services to the steel industry, which has been significantly affected by the economic recession; therefore, many companies shift their focus from quality to pricing, says cutting consumables and capital equipment supplier First Cut director Gary Willis.
Despite this, the local machine tools industry continues to develop and companies are keep- ing abreast of international standards, new products and research, he adds.
Nevertheless, Willis warns that the danger of buying cheap products is highlighted by the high failure rate commonly associated with cheaper, inferior products. Low-quality tools can result in production downtime and breakages, costing the company more money in the long run.
Compromising on quality for cost is short-sighted for any company, he asserts.
He believes that some cheaper products do have a place in the industry, provided they are sold for the right applications.
When it comes to accuracy in measuring, however, lower quality products will not have calibration certificates and are, therefore, not acceptable for use in the engineering industry.
“It is possible to find a balance between quality and pricing by selecting a supplier that is driven to uncover high-quality working solutions for its customers,” he says.
Willis points out that, despite various regulations in South Africa, counterfeit products do make their way onto the market. This can affect brand loyalty and buyers need to be constantly reassured of the quality of a product by the original-equipment manufacturers.
First Cut is proactive and vigilant about preventing counterfeits of the products it supplies from entering the market. Should this occur, products are recalled to ensure the buyer gets the highest quality products.
Meanwhile, Willis reiterates First Cut’s diversified market strategy, explaining that the company continuously expands its product offering, while focusing on supplying various markets.
This enables the company to sustain its turnover, even if some markets slow down.
He further emphasises that the company’s constant alignment with the highest quality machine tool brand manufacturers is part of its objective of introducing high-quality machine tools to industry.
At Electra Mining Africa last month, Willis said First Cut was supplying a range of abrasives from German company Sonnenflex.
The abrasives are used for cutting and grinding with portable machines, such as angle grinders, and are used extensively in the steel industry, the general engineering industry and the do-it-yourself market.
“Although there are various local abrasive manufacturers and other importers in South Africa, I believe we have sourced a product brand that is competitive in terms of quality and price.
“Our strategy is not to compete on price but rather to supply the right products for specific end-users and to prove the quality of those products, which is why we have, once again, aligned ourselves with a European manufacturer,” Willis says.
He says First Cut considers the needs and requirements of the market and is, therefore, able to find international suppliers that offer high-quality products that complement its existing product base, while establishing long-term relationships with reputable, established international suppliers.
At the Electra Mining Africa expo, the company showcased some of its band saw blade products, including the Starrett bimetal band saw blades and precision tools. These tools included micrometers, callipers, indicators, gauges, squares, levels, lubricants, surface cleaners, as well as tool and instrument oil.
The Starrett yellow bimetal hole saw is complemented by several new, application-specific hole saws, engineered for ceramic and abrasive materials, as well as for less demanding applications in mild steel sheet, plasterboard, fibreglass, wood and thin nonmetallics.
All hole saws are supported by a comprehensive range of arbors, with carbide-tipped pilot drills.
“Starrett has patented its bimetal saw technology, which is a complete departure from other methods of producing bimetal saw blades. “This results in a much larger resistance to tooth breakage and fracturing, as there is 170% more weld contact area,” Willis says.
There are two high-speed steel cutting surfaces that are separated by a carrier on the front of the blade tooth. The carrier strip wears when cutting begins and the wear forms a small U-shaped groove between the two edges. The groove remains at a constant depth, wearing at the same rate as the teeth.
Starrett precision tools are popular in the tool and die industry and among engineering companies that use computer numerically controlled lathes and milling machines.
Willis emphasises that engineering companies, which manufacture components, need assurance that there is complete precision in the end-product and consistency between repetitive components.
Additionally, automotive manufacturers stake their reputation on the critical accuracy of each part that forms part of the vehicle and anything less than 100% quality is unacceptable, he asserts.