Hyflo has been a premier distributor of hydraulics and pneumatic components in South Africa since 1959. MechTech talks to Norman Hall, Johannesburg branch manager and Gary Gordon, senior projects engineer, about Hyflo’s growing manufacturing business and the new CNC machining centre they have bought to cope with demand.

The new Mazak horizontal machining centre – bought at a total cost of nearly R5,5 million – will give Hyflo greater capacity to do repetitive work.

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This typical manifold – designed by Hyflo using Hydroman software – is for a hydraulic controllable pitch propeller (cpp) system. This system will alter the ship’s propeller blade angle for various sea states and ship speeds.

Hyflo has a rich history in South Africa; “We are redistributors of various pneumatic and hydraulic product lines. We started off in Cape Town as part of the Diesel Electric group,” Hall tells MechTech. Thirty years ago, Diesel Electric split into two companies, Hytec and Hyflo. Hytec took the Rexroth product line and Hyflo took the Bosch brand.

Ironically, a few years ago Bosch bought Rexroth and is now re-branding all Bosch hydraulic products with the Rexroth name. “To this day, Hyflo and Hytec both carry similar hydraulic lines,” says Hall.

Hyflo has the exclusive agency for SMC Pneumatic, the Japanese pneumatics brand preferred by Toyota for its assembly lines and jigs. As well as the extensive range of Bosch / Rexroth hydraulic products, it also markets components like the Moog high-end radial piston pump with new analogue and / or digital controllers.

Hyflo also has a substantial project-based business, making for example, apron feeder drives for the mining sector and belt feeder drives for feeding coal into power station boilers. “Hydraulic drives use a variable displacement pump to deliver oil from a tank, through the motor and then back to the tank,” Gordon tells us. “The more oil that is pumped, the faster the motor will turn.” The advantages? “Hydraulic drives give a maximum torque at minimum speed. At start-up you have maximum torque available. Electric drives only develop maximum torque at speed.” he explains.

Manifold design and manufacture – a service initially developed for in-house project work – is fast becoming one of Hyflo’s key product offerings. “A manifold is basically a steel or aluminium distribution block with various valves on it and / or in it that can be used to control a system,” says Gordon.

“Some are just simple distribution blocks but we have made manifolds of up to 1,3 tons.” Hall explains further: “A hydraulic system consists of an oil tank, a pump and hydraulic actuators that either push or turn. The manifold is the control. It takes oil from the pump and redistributes it to the actuator, at the required flow and at what pressure.

On a normal manifold you would have directional control valves, pressure control and speed control, all incorporated into a single block of metal.” “A manifold consolidates all the controls into one block,” continues Gordon. “You could easily have 10 different actuators connected to a single manifold for example. Our 1,3 ton block-controlled 10 rotary actuators, 8 linear actuators and multiple ancillary equipment valving, all from one piece of steel with one common oil supply.

“The main advantage of using manifolds is that by consolidating all your valves you make the whole system more compact. You eliminate the spider’s web of pipes, which simplifies the installation and, because it is all internal, reduces the risk of leaks,” Gordon adds. Hyflo’s Johannesburg branch is now specialising in the design and manufacture of manifolds.

Hyflo’s Cape Town branch is its biggest customer, but increasingly it is selling directly to customers. “Even our competitors buy manifolds from us,” says Gordon. Manifold design is done in-house in the project office facility in Sandton. “We used to use Autodesk Inventor, but we now use a manifold design package called Hydroman,” says Gordon.

“This software has a library of almost every single valve in the hydraulic industry. You take the configuration of the particular valve you need and place it onto the manifold in 3D. The software then provides you with a drilling list and a 2D engineering drawing, which our manufacturing division uses,” Gordon explains.

Hall goes on to tell us about the manufacturing side: “We used to be a jobbing shop, making customised manifolds mostly for our own projects. We currently have the capability of manufacturing the largest manifolds in the country. Recently we have bought a new CNC machine – for high speed repetitive work – to help us to service the high volume markets.” The machine is a Mazak PFH 5800 horizontal machining centre, bought at a cost of R3,8-million, “but we have spent at least another R1,5-million on tooling,” adds Hall.

He shows us what a typical hole in a manifold looks like. “It’s not just a hole; it is a hole with various lips. Instead of drilling using four or five drills at different depths, we have bought very expensive profile tools that have the exact shape of the cartridge valves that need to be installed into the block. Despite the fact that by using profile tooling we can reduce five tools into one, we have already used up all of the spaces in the Mazak’s 160 tool carousel,” he explains. “This machine is state of the art,” exclaims Hall. “It will give us access to the repetitive manufacturing market.”

The machine uses a specialised vice called a tombstone to allow up to 16 blocks to be drilled on three faces without re-setting. “Basically you can programme the machine, go home at night and when you come back in the morning, the three sides of 16 blocks are done,” says Hall. “Then you turn them all over and do the other three sides.”

He also tells us that Hyflo has bought two tombstones to go with the two pallets of the new machine. This will allow the loading of blocks on one tombstone while another set of blocks is being drilled. This avoids machine downtime owing to loading.

The combination of the Hydroman design software and the Mazak machine guarantees excellent quality standards. Hall tells us about the vision system Hyflo uses to monitor tool wear. “A camera takes a photo of all the cutting edges of the tool whilst turning. It digitally tells us which cutting edges are chipped or worn or out of specification. This gives us excellent control of the quality of the cavities we drill.”

We ask about the future: “Offshore and ship installations, general industry and mining are all spending more and more money,” says Hall. “Our manufacturing facility is already working 12 hours a day, six days a week. We are packed to capacity so we need the new machine to be up and running as soon as possible,” he exclaims. “2007 treated us well and if it continues, 2008 should be great.”