The roll forming industry is not as straightforward as it used to be. Customers demand more sophisticated shapes and quicker turnarounds. Heunis Steel has rolled with the changes over the past 50 years and now sees an exciting future serving the plumbing and construction industries.
They might not be the first item you detail on the architects plans when designing a home or commercial building. But, with today’s focus to design buildings that reduce environmental impact and to conserve and recycle our valuable resources, rainwater harvesting components such as gutters and drainpipes, roof sheeting and ceiling products become an important factor in the final mix. Not only must these components and products be functional but they must also be aesthetically pleasing when visible to the eye.
Heunis Steel is a family owned business that was established by the late Connie du Plessis in 1968. Du Plessis spotted a business opportunity and purchased a company that, at the time, mainly manufactured rainwater goods such as gutters, downpipes and accessories, catering largely to the plumbing industry. The manufacturing plant was moved to Zandfontein, Pretoria, in the early 1970s where it still operates from today.
Heunis Steel decoils and rollforms sheet metal into product
Current owner Anton Heunis
Du Plessis’s son-in-law Koot Heunis – father of current owner Anton Heunis – worked for the company from 1968 until 1984 before deciding to leave the company and start his own transport business. In 1992 the opportunity was presented for Koot Heunis to purchase the company from his father-in-law, which he did. In 1999 however, the ownership changed hands again, effectively creating a third-generation company when Anton Heunis took over as owner and managing director of the company.
Today Anton Heunis remains as the majority shareholder of the business although, for a brief period from 2008 until 2016, the company had the JSE listed company the Dawn Group involved as a minority shareholder.
“At the time when the Dawn Group became a minority shareholder they were on the acquisition trail. They were a major client of ours and still are today. But their strategy has subsequently been to exit many of the manufacturing facilities that they had become involved in and return to being a major distributor of sanitaryware, plumbing, kitchen, engineering and civil products. Our brief period together was beneficial to both parties and came at a time when Heunis Steel saw tremendous growth,” explained Anton Heunis.
Third generation progress
With Anton Heunis at the helm, the company bloomed and the potential for other market opportunities was realised. As a young opportunist and business enthusiast, Anton saw that the time was favourable to explore value-added opportunities. This meant that any extra products supplied by Heunis Steel would purely be an add on. The company added roof sheeting products to their range in 2005 and quickly achieved the top of their game. The concept of loading various products on the same truck that delivered to the same address on the same account, just made profitable business sense.
Coils of various sizes are kept in a strict system according to product group
Rainwater components and products account for 40% of Heunis Steel’s production, roofing – which they only introduced in 2005 – 50%, and the ceiling products the remaining 10%
The company now has 25 trucks on the road delivering product from Upington and Postmasburg in the Northern Cape province to Port Elizabeth and King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape province and many other big and small towns in between.
“We cover all the provinces in South Africa and even deliver cross border to Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. We now have 30 different clearly defined zones that we deliver to and this distribution and logistical side of our business is as important to us as the manufacturing side. We place an emphasis on it as we don’t want to upset clients by sending the wrong order to Hazyview, for example. It is costly to rectify as we would only be delivering in that area again a week later.”
“This division is run by my brother Christo who prior to joining the company worked for a number of years in the transport business.”
“So important is the logistical side to the company that we have complemented it by setting up our own Toyota approved mechanical workshop for trucks. This workshop takes care of all the servicing and repairs of our fleet. To attain Toyota approval you need to adhere to all the mechanical requirements as well as the environmental ones.”
On the punching side Heunis Steel has a Euromac BX 1250/30 that has a work surface of 1 250 x 2 500mm, a force press of 30 tons and can process material up to 5mm plate thickness, more than within Heunis Steel’s paramaters. The machine was supplied by CML Machine Tools
The most recent installation was a Safan E-brake E100-3000 that has a bending length of 3 000mm and a bending force of 100 tons. The machine was supplied by CML Machine Tools
Another opportunity presented itself a few years later in 2010 in the form of a company called Barak Products that was a manufacturer of ceiling strips. This opportunity offered a way to minimise the waste that the company was occurring with the off cuts from the other manufacturing divisions.
“We were selling large amounts of offcuts at prices way below what we had paid for the raw materials. Heunis Steel purchased Barak Products and incorporated the production line into the available space at our Zandfontein plant. Innovative automation was implemented to ensure that the production line would fit into the smaller space on the Heunis Steel premises. This was done with immense success, achieving the same volumes but with far less costs and fewer personnel, which led to greater efficiency and we were using the waste to produce another product range.”
“This production line also includes a powder coating plant that incorporates all the latest environmental requirements and energy saving components needed.”
How the process works
Heunis Steel’s business is simple. The company rollforms, presses and profiles galvanised sheet metal and then sells and distributes its products to a large client base in the construction, building and plumbing industries. The company boasts over 1 000 clients that include names like Cashbuild, Builders Warehouse, Mica and Chamberlains.
Heunis Steel has two Safan E-brakes that it uses in its bending department
For the type of products that Heunis Steel manufactures there is an obvious call for press work. In this department they have a number of eccentric Caxton type presses. Brackets, holderbats, stopends and other types of components are produced on these machines
Heunis Steel’s entire product line is based on processing galvanised steel, which the company purchases in coil and sheet metal form from ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA). A limited amount of coil is also purchased from international suppliers. As AMSA only supplies in certain widths, too wide for Heunis Steel’s manufacturing process, coil is sent to a service centre that then does decoiling and slitting to Heunis Steel’s requirements.
When Anton Heunis purchased the company in 1999 it occupied a footprint of 2 000m² but has since grown and expanded to such an extent that it now occupies 15 000m² under roof.
“The company had had a space expansion prior to this last one. This last expansion has taken us to virtually the maximum amount of space that we can occupy on the current site so in future going forward if we want to expand the business we will have to add further shifts to our programme. Currently we are operating an eight hour shift five days a week and we more than meet the current demand in South Africa for certain of our products. A new entrant into the industry would find it very difficult to survive economically if they had to try and set up from scratch.”
“When we had the latest expansion to our facility we were afforded the opportunity to plan our manufacturing operations so as to maximise material flow – raw and processed – and storage of final product, distribution and all the other aspects involved in the process.”
Finished product is strictly controlled via a pallet system
Once it started expanding the plant Heunis Steel evolved with the times by installing a railway track inside the factory, which includes operator-less shuttles conveying goods from one end to the other. This saves on forklifts and operators and removes forklift fumes
“One of the major outcomes was that we were able to separate the areas of manufacturing that we serve: Rainwater, roofing and ceiling. In other words we have three factories within one factory – all with their own material supply, manufacturing equipment and related services. Rainwater components and products account for 40% of our production, roofing, which we only introduced in 2005, 50%, and the ceiling products the remaining 10%.”
“This has been a big improvement to our manufacturing process as there is now no contamination or product chaos. You can imagine, we have 50 different product groups within the rainwater division alone, each having many different sizes and varieties, so strict controls have to be put in place otherwise we will deliver the wrong product to our client in Hazyview.”
“Rollforming of sheet metal plays an integral role in the building and construction of commercial and industrial structures and in the automotive industry, which we have not ventured into yet.”
“There are many products and components that are being rollformed these days, which we are not aware of. In our business the process of rollforming accounts for most of our production output.”
To improve production times in the welding department Heunis Steel installed two Fanuc welding robots
Heunis Steel’s entire product line is based on processing galvanised steel
“Heunis Steel has a number of rollforming machines on the production floor. Amongst them we do have imported equipment but most of them have been built by ourselves to suit our requirements. They are all modern incorporating the latest technology and are automated with the latest PLC controls. They process material between 0.25mm and 2.4mm. Tooling does play a major part in the final outcome of the product or component so we are very aware to service these tools regularly. All the manufacturing of our tooling is out sourced.”
Heunis Steel believes it is on par with international manufacturers. It has everything under one roof in its factory, ensuring a good flow of materials. This includes the distribution of the finished goods to the warehouse, and from there to the trucks. Double handling has been brought down to the bare minimum with most things being containerised.
Once it started expanding the plant Heunis Steel evolved with the times by installing a railway track inside the factory, which includes operator-less shuttles conveying goods from one end to the other. This saves on forklifts and operators and removes forklift fumes. During the design of the building, provision was also made for the installation of overhead cranes, making it very easy to move materials around and load it into the machines.
Bending and punching
Rollforming is not the only material processing function that forms part of Heunis Steel’s manufacturing process. Bending and punching are also an integral operation of some of the components that Heunis Steel manufactures. In this department the company deploys three Safan press brakes as well as two Promecam press brakes.
The company also manufactures rainwater tanks in galvanised steel
The most recent installation was a Safan E-brake E100-3 000 that has a bending length of 3 000mm and a bending force of 100 tons. The machine was supplied by CML Machine Tools.
On the punching side Heunis Steel has a Euromac BX 1250/30 that has a work surface of 1 250 x 2 500mm, a force press of 30 tons and can process material up to 5mm plate thickness, more than within Heunis Steel’s paramaters. The machine was also supplied by CML Machine Tools.
“We are always looking for new ways to improve our production times so in the welding department we have deployed two Fanuc welding robots. The Fanuc robots were installed by Robotic Innovations and are used for specific welding operations where we have high volume,” said Heunis.
“In the type of products that we are manufacturing there is an obvious call for press work. We have a number of eccentric Caxton type presses deployed. Brackets, holderbats, stopends and other types of components are produced on these machines. As they are normally sold in bundles of 10, 25 or even 50 in some cases, we outsource the counting and bundling of these components to the local disability home. It earns them money and alleviates us of a time consuming function.”
Although not a big part of Heunis Steel’s production, the company does manufacture galvanised steel water tanks, which range from 150 litres up to 10 000 litres.
“Galvanised steel tanks have big competition from plastic manufactured tanks these days. They might have some advantages over our steel tanks, such as easier installation, but our tanks will last much longer than a plastic tank. Up to 25 years in some cases.”
The company is always exploring new product ideas
“We may not be liked by some suppliers of equipment because we are very adept and innovative in manufacturing our own machines. All our decoilers have been made by ourselves. They do need machined components so we will shop this work out even though we have a small machine shop.”
“Our biggest objective is to be as efficient as possible in our manufacturing processes and other areas of the company. Even continuous improvement processes don’t make a fabricator entirely unique. The tools of lean manufacturing and other continuous improvement methods are widely published and available to any company willing to make the investment. But if you don’t make use of them you do it at your own peril.”
For further details contact Heunis Steel on TEL: 012 372 0021 or visit www.heunis.co.za