Long-term decay and the cur- rent economic slump have weakened the tooling industry, resulting in the National Tooling Initiative (NTI) focusing one of its programmes on the recapitalisa- tion of the industry.
“There are a number of instruments available to the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Empowerment Fund and we are looking into how we can better assist our industry to make use of these instruments,” says NTI national programme CEO Dirk van Dyk.
Van Dyk explains that there is a demand for tooling in industries, including the auto- motive and packaging industries. While South African companies do want to source their tooling locally, most of these companies are sourcing tooling from other countries as a result of poor quality and the long supply lead times, he says. This, he notes, results in challenges in terms of maintenance and upkeep. “It is a problem if you do not have the skills and equipment to run, maintain and manufacture replacement parts for the tools locally. The tooling industry needs to restructure to meets these demands,” he says.
It is currently a tough trading period for the tooling industry, with high levels of distress as companies shut down and smaller, generalised tooling takes strain as a result of the economic climate.
He adds that only a few companies with high levels of specialisation in niche markets, such as aerospace and pack- aging, and with international exports have not been nega- tively affected by the current economic downturn. “The hardest hit have been those companies linked to the automotive industry, as car sales decline and maintenance spend is withheld,” he says.
In the current economic climate, he believes that investors are unlikely to finance the investment needed for skills development and for upgrading equipment, which are required to demonstrate to industry that demands can be met and orders can be fulfilled. “When you are viewed as an industry in distress, raising the money needed to obtain the orders is difficult and the NTI is looking at how to improve competitiveness and investment in the industry to ensure that when economic conditions have improved, the tooling industry has the right skills and funding mechanisms available,” says Van Dyk.
He adds that relevant stakeholders need to use their resources in totality to tackle this problem effectively. While internationally the tooling industry is improving all the time, with advanced techno- logies that are becoming more cost effective, he says that skills are needed to operate new technologies, which may often require ongoing research and development (R&D) support systems.
“South Africa does not produce enough specialised designers, technicians and engineers; therefore, we require a more coordinated approach whereby cluster-based com- panies work together in smaller participative environments and are partnered to institutions with the appropriate R&D environments to assist these companies,” Van Dyk says.
“This is successfully being done in Germany, China and the US, where institutions and R&D platforms are aligned with specific individual company needs. The one- shoe-fits-all approach in this country does not work any- more. There is no place for generalised toolmaking. A higher level of specialisation is required,” he adds.
Van Dyk states that the tooling industry is mirroring about 80% of what is required in the broader manufacturing industry. He adds that if the tooling industry is able to achieve this in a smaller environment, it will, by default, get it right for the broader manufacturing industry, and successfully reposition the country as a manufacturing destination and manufacturing export country.