Back in the Game
Project Manager:Kane Weller
For the best part of 40 years, globally renowned foundry, Atlantis Foundries has overseen numerous changes across its ownership and the wider industry, but has simultaneously remained consistent across the world-class standards it has become praised for.
Supplying predominantly heavy-duty engine blocks for some of the world’s leading truck OEMs - including Daimler, MAN, Cummins and Perkins - the business boasts one of the largest foundry networks for engine parts the world over; and with the latest technology, the most skilled personnel, and the most refined processes in place, the Company is perfectly geared up for whatever challenges the future holds.
“Our history dates back to 1979, when Atlantis Diesel Engines (ADE) was established by the South African Government (IDC) and was licensed to produce Mercedes Benz and Perkins diesel engines for the South African commercial and agricultural markets, and for military vehicles such as the Ratel IFV, Buffel, Casspir and SAMIL Trucks,” opens Atlantis’ Commercial Director, Sally Redshaw.
In the intervening years, a multitude of takeovers, acquisitions and restructurings have taken place, leading to the current day’s tone which was set in June, 2015.
Redshaw continues: “As of 30 June, 2015, the corporate structure of Atlantis Foundries (Pty) Ltd changed to 100 percent ownership of Neue Halberg-Guss GmbH (under the ownership of HTP Investments). Halberg-Guss GmbH was founded in 1756, and is now one of the European market leaders in the development and production of cylinder blocks for cars and trucks as well as cylinder heads for trucks and other automotive components; supplying both leading car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Daimler, Opel, and leading truck manufactures such as Daimler, Deutz, Scania and Iveco.”
This acquisition from Daimler epitomises the household names that Atlantis has been affiliated with over the years, intensified further by the foothold that the Company enjoys around the world; currently exporting 99.8 percent of its products away from its home in South Africa, mainly to the US, Germany and China.
And as for the products themselves, the journey of diversification, enhancement and expansion has been equally significant: boasting a melting capacity of 125,000 tonnes per annum; using cold box technology to facilitate the full spectrum of shapes and sizes across its engine blocks; operating fully automated core dipping facilities to connect to its tunnel indexing core drying oven; using green sand moulding techniques to be able to cast as many as 188,000 moulds a year; and catering for the full range of automotive component grades including GG20, GG25, GG26 Cr, GG26 CuCr, and GG30.
In addition, Atlantis Foundries also has the basic infrastructure to manufacture castings in Compact Graphite Iron (CGI) and Spheroidal Graphite Iron (SGI).
“After casting, Atlantis Foundries also offers a complete finishing process, enabling us to improve the product by removing excess material (fettling), powder coating, reference machining (spotting), and full or partial (pre) machining” Redshaw explains. “Atlantis Foundries has a wealth of experience in casting and machining engine blocks for passenger cars, medium-duty and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, marine applications, and off-road applications.
“Essentially, we are a global Company and do not restrict our customer base geographically. As we are centrally located to Europe, Asia and the Americas, we are able to efficiently export these products to any market in the world.”
This all-encompassing, market-leading portfolio is inevitably a far cry from the business which opened its doors in 1979, but only in terms of product development, not necessarily in terms of vision or ethos.
Redshaw takes us back to the beginning following the first of many acquisitions: “In 1983, the Foundry was built on a Greenfield site by the Ferroform Foundry Group. The Ferroform Foundry Group was later sold to the Murray and Roberts Foundries Group and in 1985 Atlantis Foundries was sold to Atlantis Diesel Engines (ADE) where they not only cast and machined engines and engine components, but also had an assembly line.”
She continues: “In 1999, ADE was liquidated, and Daimler AG (then called DaimlerChrysler), through its subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz South Africa (Pty) Ltd, purchased Atlantis Foundries and the Block Line 1 Machining facility, and incorporated Atlantis Foundries into the Daimler Trucks Powertrain business unit.”
The following four years saw purchases of the Perkins Machining Line and V-Block Machining Line from the IDC, the Atlantis Foundries Business Park and Crankshaft Line from the same business, and also received approval for the Perkins Vista Capital Improvement Project which commenced in 2003.
“In 2008, a project for the introduction of a new generation of heavy-duty engine (HDEP) blocks was completed and commissioned for Daimler AG/Mercedes-Benz Trucks, and the ramp-up of production started; leading up to 30 June, 2015 when Neue Halberg-Guss GmbH purchased Atlantis Foundries (Pty) Ltd from Daimler/Mercedes-Benz South Africa,” Redshaw ends.
This latest change of tact detracts nothing from the Company’s overall rise to prominence over the past 17 years especially, since the takeover by Daimler Group in 1999. Even prior to Neue Halberg-Guss GmbH’s purchase, Atlantis had achieved an increase, since the turn of the millennium, from 30,000 to 69,000 net tonnes a year to become one of the leading heavy-duty engine block foundries in the world, employing more than 1,000 people.
“We are ISO 9001, TS16949 , and Lloyds Register certificated, demonstrating our high technical specifications and inherent quality management system that provides for continuous improvement, and emphasises effective prevention of and reduction of variation and waste. TS16949 is specific to the automotive industry supply chain,” Redshaw says.
“Environmental compliance is also important to us,” she adds in attributing the reasons for Atlantis’ recent successes. “We are continuously looking towards more environmentally friendly methods and processes, recycling of materials and waste, energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.
“To further support these initiatives, we are currently working towards implementation of ISO 14001 to ensure improved compliance and environmental awareness.”
Atlantis Foundries continuously strives to improve the efficiency and quality of its processes and products; demonstrated by the aforementioned attained certifications, and driven by the inception of its ‘lean transformation journey’ in 2008.
Led by the implementation of the Daimler Truck Operating System (TOS), the Company’s commitment to lean manufacturing has filtered wholly to the products being exported, but importantly has also culminated in cost reduction, elimination of waste, enhanced problem solving capabilities, value stream mapping, process standardisation, and overall operational efficiency.
“Our focus was also on layout optimisation and we moved towards the set-up of the concept of a ‘one piece flow’ with the installation of flow lines to optimise processes, improve efficiency and reduce inventory.”
Further improvements have consisted of a more optimised and efficient HDEP moulding line, a more speedy and efficient production line, a reduction in manpower and maintenance costs, and a decrease in material costs.
Redshaw continues: “Since the divesture from Mercedes-Benz SA/Daimler AG, Atlantis Foundries has continued on its ‘lean journey’ and has since embarked on the implementation of 20 Keys for continuous business improvement. At Atlantis Foundries, we believe that ’20 Keys’ is the roadmap to maintaining the status of a world-class foundry.
“Our modern machining facility is the last step in this process, and we are equipped with two machining lines and flexible machining centres for the full, or partial (pre) machining of engine blocks, parts or components.”
As a result of a more refined internal operation, the consequent product range has also been given license to expand across both engine block production and the production of complementary automotive components; and being located close to a large container harbour with international scope - as well as 5,000 square metres of warehousing space - the business is better geared up than ever before to leverage its own process efficiencies and proficiencies.
Proven track record
To complement the lean nature of the business, Atlantis has simultaneously looked to upgrade the equipment and machinery available to the Company in-line with this ethos.
An increased reliance on automation as opposed to manual labour has subsequently made the works carried out, not just more efficient, but much safer for its employees as well.
“Foundry technology is an old and established, complicated process, and technological advancements are not as fast developing as in other industries. We therefore focus on standardisation and layout optimisation, maintenance, and efficiencies to ensure we stay ahead of the industry curve,” Redshaw states. “Our focus is on quality, and we have a proven track record of producing outstanding quality products attributable to a world-class foundry.
“Investment in our future is critical to survival. The foundry business is extremely competitive with only a handful of major foundries across the globe able to produce high quality heavy duty truck engine block castings for the OEMs. We have to keep up-to-date with technological advancements and efficiency improvements to remain ahead of the game.”
Such technological improvements include the use of water-based paint as a more cost-effective method of coating the core packages, while also noticing an improvement in the casting surface that has improved the overall quality of its products and in helping to reduce finishing costs.
Redshaw adds: “We are also active in benchmarking; not only in our own industry, but other industries, and are keen to share the knowledge and experiences of our lean transformation to other companies just starting out on their journey. We frequently visit other companies and look for new ideas and, in return, host many benchmarking visits to our foundry to share our successes and knowledge.”
Since the sale of Atlantis Foundries to Neue Halberg-Guss GmbH in June, 2016, the Company has continued to invest in the South African operation’s future in terms of technology, efficiency and environmental impact; and as a result, the Western Cape-based foundry has undergone some significant changes in terms of technological advancements.
As part of the Neue Halberg-Guss Group, Atlantis Foundries now has access to R&D facilities at its parent foundry based in Saarbruecken, Germany, which also enables its role as a development partner for the customer as well as enhancing its own commitment to innovation in South Africa.
Subsequent forays into improved engineering support, rapid prototyping, in-house machining, photo digitisation, casting simulations, prototype tooling and design optimisation represent just a select few of these research and development tools; but are all underpinned by the Companies primary focus on health & safety.
“The health & safety of our employees is always at the forefront of our minds. With the switch to water-based coatings, our employees are no longer exposed to the inhalation of vapours given off from alcohol-based paint. In addition, the risk of fire is significantly reduced as the water-based coatings are non-flammable, versus the high flammability of alcohol-based coatings previously used,” Redshaw offers as an example.
Such dedication to employee comfort and satisfaction makes Atlantis a clear employer of choice in the Atlantis area, with 85 percent of the workforce emanating from the local region, while also achieving very high retention rates as a result of its internal development programmes.
“We firmly believe that we must respect, support and understand the culture of Atlantis Foundries. There is a lot of history within the Company and the workforce, alongside a lot of knowledge and experience. Our Employees have dedicated a large portion of their lifetime to contributing towards the success that Atlantis Foundries is today, and we appreciate that,” Redshaw emphasises. “We also support the learning needs and development paths of our employees and, as such, have seen production operators move to administrative positions within finance and human resources for example.
“We provide education subsidies for those employees wanting to develop their knowledge and careers further, we provide NQF training for all levels of supervision to give them the tools they need for effective leadership, and we also support their families by offering bursaries to the children of our employees.”
The opportunity for change
Atlantis Foundries’ enrichment of local artisans and consistent preference of internal promotion fits within a wider corporate social responsibility philosophy which is committed to allocating a minimum of one percent of its net profits to local uplifting projects.
With the belief that ‘charity begins at home’, schools and charities in Atlantis and surrounding areas have benefitted hugely from the Company’s works outside of the foundry.
Redshaw says: “Atlantis Foundries strongly believes in investing in people. People are our future. Without people, we cannot operate, and as such the community of Atlantis and the surrounding areas are important to us. Not only because the majority of our workforce live in these areas, but also because our employees of the future will most likely come from the same area.”
Supporting initiatives such as HOPE @ ATLANTIS is a strong example of this approach, with the initiation of the Atlantis Industrial Initiative where it has joined forces with other local Companies to support education in the community, and by providing free of charge additional tuition in maths and science; helping young learners gain entry into Stellenbosch University, in addition to providing bursaries for children of Atlantis employees.
Education is exactly what the Company is giving to the wider market as well, leading across the production of cast iron blocks in excess of 400 kilograms, while also casting some of the largest, heavy and most complex castings in the business; all from a platform of continuous improvement and cost competitiveness in a highly specialised market.
“The message is clear – Atlantis Foundries is back in the game,” Redshaw enthuses. “We are not just an automotive foundry. We now have the opportunity for change. We want to grow our customer base, and develop a diverse product portfolio for a sustainable future.
“We hope to have put our name back out into the marketplace as not only a world-class producer of cast automotive engine blocks, but as a world-class foundry that can produce the best quality products for any industry.”
She concludes: “As part of the Neue Halberg-Guss Group of Foundries, together we are stronger, and we believe that we have what it takes to become the best foundry Group in the world.”