Elquip Solutions and CE Mobility: ‘welding’ a sound relationship to assist in providing ease of mobility to the physically challenged

While November 2016 saw the commemoration of national disability rights awareness month in South Africa, many are still unaware that approximately 10% of the country’s entire population is actually in some way disabled. This translates into some 250,000 people who may require a wheelchair or other mobility aid. In addition, there are the elderly – and those who have suffered some form of temporary disablement – who also may require various mechanical mobility aids.

CE Mobility, a company based in western Johannesburg, has been South Africa’s leading manufacturer of mobility aids for the past 65 years. The company produces a full range of wheelchairs from the most basic to sophisticated motorised models. Many of these are further customised to meet clients’ particular individual requirements.

The company also produces other aids such as canes, crutches and walkers. In addition, as a sideline, CE Mobility manufactures tent poles, directors’ chairs and lawnmower handles.

With 120 employees involved in the manufacturing process, CE Mobility prides itself on the high level of localised, South African content in its products. A vertically integrated operation, the company performs functions such as CNC machining and cutting, powder coating, bending and notching in-house at its factory in Maraisburg.

“This approach allows us to produce wheelchairs and other mobility aids at a highly competitive cost without compromising on quality,” says CE Mobility Manager, Rodney Outram.

However, wheelchairs have to be very robust as they are very often in use 18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their strength is achieved through their tubular construction and the actual quality of the steel that is used in manufacture.

“Generally we use SAE1010 in the manufacturing process; however, when very high steel strength is required, we use ‘Docol’ steel imported from Sweden. This is thinner – but far stronger – than other grades of steel typically used. Whereas normal mild steel strength is rated at 380 MPa, this high tensile, ‘Docol’ steel rates at 1000 MPa,” explains Outram.

“At CE Mobility, we carry out our own in-house quality testing to standards which not only meet ISO benchmarks but exceed them,” he continues.

In spite of stringent quality standards and controls, under the burden of constant use, even the strongest of wheelchairs wear out and need replacement with newer models. Pivotal to the company’s manufacturing process is CE Mobility’s tube mill, which converts flat steel into steel tube. The tube mill has a welder fitted to it, to join the seam in the pipe and complete the process.

However, CE Mobility’s tube mill/welder combination was 48 years old. While this did not overtly affect the efficiency of the mill, the valve welder – now obsolete – was starting to show its age. “Over the past five years, increasingly, the valve welder we had was proving to be a production bottleneck,” explains Outram.

To find a solution regarding the ageing welder, Outram consulted Elquip Solutions’ Managing Director Mike Cronin. “Eleven years ago, we had purchasing consumables from Elquip Solutions; and this developed into a really cordial and mutually beneficial working relationship,” Outram elaborates.

“We had in our product range a technically advanced ‘solid state’ (SS) welder ideally suited for this application, which we sourced from our international principal Unitherm,” explains Cronin. In addition, Elquip Solutions upgraded the mill with modern motor drives. The combination of a new welder and upgraded mill has meant faster production with improved quality and less waste for CE Mobility.

However, as the mill is a key part of the company’s manufacturing process, the downtime caused by the upgrade and modification needed to be kept to a minimum. “The installation and commissioning process was quick and efficient, and we planned our production schedule around it accordingly. The mill and welder being able to return to service after just two weeks,” explains Outram. “We were also extremely pleased that Elquip’s principal, Unitherm, sent a technician to South Africa, who worked with us and the Elquip team on-site, especially to assist with the installation.”

The outcome of the completed project is that the mill/welder now runs at twice the speed, which halves the production time; and the troubleshooting which had to be done with the old welder is now a thing of the past.

“We are very pleased with the upgraded mill and new welder. The welder technology is modern and user-friendly. It is also fully integrated into the overall operation of the mill,” adds Outram. “The productivity improvement has been so successful that we now have spare production capacity,” he adds.

“In fact, Mike Cronin and his team at Elquip Solutions have really gone the extra mile – and further – in order to accommodate our every requirement on this project. They have gone to any lengths to ensure that CE Mobility benefits from the very latest, state-of-the-art technology. Reduced production times, better processes and manufacturing efficiencies, in the end, result in our customers benefitting from a stronger, easier to use, more cost-competitive product,” says Outram.

“We have been delighted to work with CE Mobility as they are an innovative, open-minded customer, always willing to try new approaches and technology – which ultimately lightens the burden on those in society who have to contend with physical mobility challenges,” concludes Cronin.