Over 400 small engineering and manufacturing companies in the Eastern Cape have been helped to be more competitive by the eNtsa engineering technology station at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

Funding by the Technology Innovation Agency helps keep the costs down – and in many cases the support is free, according to eNtsa engineering technology station director Andrew Young.

For Port Elizabeth-based Yenza Manufacturing this has meant providing and installing equipment on loan.

Yenza is a supplier to the auto industry, with past and present clients including General Motors South Africa, Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Tenneco and Benteler Automotive.

Support included the training of operators, says Themba Mtati, managing director of Yenza Manufacturing.

“When I think of the support they gave us I cannot put a value to it because of the amount of time they spent here. They also did a lot of work behind the scenes,” he says.

The support helped Yenza to expand its customer base and its reach. Components manufactured in Port Elizabeth by Yenza are exported to Germany, according to Mtati.

Yenza is an example of where larger manufacturers in Nelson Mandela Bay provide support where eNtsa is involved in the development of suppliers to the manufacturers themselves, says Young.

Here the focus is usually on refining manufacturing processes to ensure consistent quality.

This includes support for automation and robotics on the production line, as well as identifying ways of lowering the costs of the energy used in the manufacturing process.

Testing facilities within eNtsa will help identify reasons for failure and will be able to accurately predict the service life of a component.

“We support small businesses with technology and expertise they would not otherwise be able to afford,” he says.

Another case study

Affordability is important for Kate Gluckman, managing director of specialised industrial brush supplier John Gray & Son.

“We have a product which we were importing, and my brief to them was to find a way for me to make it in the cheapest possible way,” she says.

The solution could be labour-intensive because “we need to employ more people.

“But we just did not want to have to lay out huge amounts of money for the manufacturing equipment,” she adds.

Support for small business includes help with development and design. eNtsa has the equipment and the people to do mechanical design, 3D modelling, finite element analysis and rapid prototyping, says Young.

“Entrepreneurs come to us with an idea and we will help them to refine their design. We can make anything here.”

eNtsa both designed a machine and provided the full set of drawings and bill of quantities to John Gray & Son for the building of a prototype.

“They have been phenomenal. It is a design which my technical manager can build – with eNtsa providing ongoing support. They will make any components we can’t make ourselves or source from suppliers they have recommended,” she says.

Where the initial focus of the unit was on the automotive industry, it has since expanded into to other sectors, with particular emphasis on renewable and green energy solutions, according to Young.