The scarcity of skills and the instability in the workplace in South Africa were becoming barriers for foreign companies to invest in the tooling and components industry, the managing director of L&J Tools in Durban said yesterday.
L&J Tools, which is affected by the continuing strike in the metal fabrication sector, said besides the current strike, the industry was facing a major skills shortage problem, which forced companies to import components that could be manufactured locally.
The company, founded by Lucien Inghilterra, has been supplying metal press and sub-assembly components to Toyota South Africa Motors for 32 years. It also supplies automotive companies such as Takata Petri, Armstrong Shock Absorbers, Mahle Behr, Robert Bosch and GUD Holdings.
L&J Tools managing director Rex Monda said the industry was in dire need of tool and die makers who would be able to revitalise the once thriving sector. Tool and die makers are a class of machinist in the manufacturing industries who make jigs, fixtures, dies, molds and machine tools among other components in manufacturing processes.
Monda said the trade was not only prestigious, but also had an ability to unlock the country’s potential of becoming a tooling hub.
“Take KwaZulu-Natal for example, we have one of the biggest car manufacturers in the province and other multi-national companies that could be supplied with tools, but there is a shortage of tool manufacturers,” he said.
Monda was of the view that tool and die making should be made attractive at technical high schools. “Young people should be… made aware of the earning potential of this trade,” he said.
L&J Tools, which has a licence agreement with Toyota SA, was established in 1979 and has been supplying Toyota since 1981. The company has grown from a 100m2 factory into a 10 000m2 site and employs about 150 people.
Inghilterra said the South African motor industry was among the best.
“We have some problems with the strike because we have no material to carry on with production. Other than that we are not affected by factors such as the weak economy,” he said.
L&J Tools has just signed another contract with Toyota SA to make some seat components for the Quantum minibus production line in Durban.
“This is part of the localisation programme and L&J Tools’s part would be welding and electro-coating the benchseat for the new Toyota Quantum,” Monda said.
In partnership with the government through the Gijima Fund and Toyota SA, L&J Tools will receive seven robotic cells from Japan. “The machines are going to be paid for by the government, leaving a gap for us to employ more people,” Inghilterra said.
L&J Tools, which has an estimated turnover of R100 million, will in the next 12 months invest R7m in a new automated electro-coating machine, with other investments going into automatic mechanical presses and a new building for the Quantum minibus seat production line.
The company also has a technical agreement with Toyota SA to weld the front and rear doors for the new Toyota Corolla Quest. “This will push the company to the next level and unlock more growth,” Monda said.
L&J Tools received the Regional Convention Contribution Award for Africa at the 2014 Toyota global suppliers’ convention. The award had been won by only two South African companies in 20 years, Monda said.
He said the automotive industry was a key driver of growth in South Africa, however, the recent strikes in the sector in the past 12 months had been disruptive.
Inghilterra maintained that this kind of labour instability would scare investors away.