South African toolmaking companies have a far lower labour cost per working hour than the German companies. This, however, was negated by lower productivity from these workers and higher other input costs (for example material costs – steel in South Africa is twice as expensive as in Germany). As a result South African companies are not as profitable as German companies.
South African toolmaking companies tend to make different products with an emphasis on smaller lower-end technology tooling. They also offer fewer services (design, try-out, ramp-up monitoring and after-sales service like maintenance). South African companies have not kept abreast of the latest technologies on offer and are lacking in equipment productivity and automation.
Other than the skills differences, South African companies have artisans that are relatively old whereas German companies have a significantly higher percentage of apprentices in the toolrooms to counter the ageing problem. Absenteeism in South Africa is also significantly higher than in Germany.
Finally, the work processes by German toolmaking companies were found to be more advanced than their South African counterparts. The quotation process in South Africa is long, not scientific, inaccurate and the actual cost versus quoted price is typically not measured. Modern design processes are not used (3D parametric design, simulation, CAD/CAM) and process stability is low-based on number of try-out cycles, assembly overtime, and total overtime hours. Local assembly areas in particular are problematic, compared to German companies as they are not ergonomic and are generally badly organised.
There is much work to be done to make the South African TDM industry a competitive and global proposition. It’s clear that the ‘way we’ve always done business’ is no longer a profitable model. But as critical support industry to manufacturing, there is a huge opportunity for those businesses with an eye on the future to prosper and give China a run for their money.