Aluminium diecaster in three-pronged growth drive

16th May 2003 By: Joanne Delaurentis

A strategic decision to redirect its sights on global markets has seen aluminium specialist the Bel-Essex group establish various manufacturing capabilities in the Eastern Cape in support of global customers in the automotive supply industry, Bel-Mec MD Anton Nolte tells Engineering News.

The first phase in the planned three-phase construction of the world-class Bel-Mec Die Casting facility in Uitenhage was completed last year.

This new R109-million facility, equipped with state-of-the-art high-pressure aluminium diecasting machinery, currently supplies the Ford Motor Company RoCam engine and the Volkswagen T4 engine, says Nolte.

The new facility was set up as a joint venture between Bel-Essex and the Italian company Almec – a manufacturer of die components in Europe.

The construction of Bel-Mec Die Casting started in the first quarter of 2002 and the first phase was completed by the third quarter of that year, following series approval by the customer, says Nolte.

“In the planned second phase, new equity partners, in the form of the Industrial Development Corporation and a future deal with BAE SAAB, will expand the current plant twofold in the next year,” he explains. “After this, phase three will further expand the operation to enable the plant to process over 3,4-million kilograms of secondary aluminium a year, creating about 300 additional job opportunities,” says Nolte.

“We are currently in discussions with a number of original-equipment manufacturers, both locally and abroad, regarding future programmes in which Bel-Mec’s ability to supply aluminium parts could be critical to the feasibility of such programmes being undertaken in South Africa,” he says.

Additional plans to expand capacity within Bel-Mec include the construction of a state-of-the-art tool and die manufacturing facility.

Technical support for this project from practitioners abroad has already been secured, and will include a personnel exchange programme where skilled artisans will be coopted to South Africa and cadets from South Africa will be sent abroad on learnership programmes, says Nolte. All of these expansion plans will depend on remaining globally competitive with regard to costs such as aluminium material, and therefore the stabilisation of price and availability is going to be a major determining factor,” he says.

Regarding the local aluminium diecasting industry as a whole, Nolte stresses that the plundering of South Africa’s local resources by way of nonvalue-added exports of raw materials and scrap alloys, such as aluminium, is of great concern. “Unscrupulous exporting into dollar-based markets is going to weigh heavily on our ability to continue to remain competitive in world markets when we have to reimport materials and pay exchange related prices,” he says.

He continues that the loss of job opportunities in the aluminium-processing industry, through the export of scrap, exacerbated by the costs that the industry has to pay for materials, will be a large hindrance to the industry’s future global competitiveness.