It’s not that any such complaints are heard from Spec Tool & Die, we hasten to add, but as the company celebrates its 20th anniversary it’s undoubtedly time for P&PM’s spotlight to rotate, to shine more clearly on this amazing toolroom operation.
Since the company’s inception in 1991, founder Dave Murgatroyd has been intent on setting and maintaining the highest possible standards in the tool-making sector. And the strategy continued unabated when he was joined by his partner, Kenneth Moore, in 1994. Both are qualified tool and die makers; and all play an active role in the business.
Working with leading brand owners and the country’s top plastics packaging converters, Spec Tool & Die has grown to be one of the largest independent toolrooms in southern Africa. Situated in Lansdowne Industrial Park in Durban’s industrial suburb of Jacobs, the company specialises in the development, design and manufacture of moulds for plastics packaging.
In the beginning
But let’s go back to the beginning. How did it all start?
Dave relates that his career started at Metal Box in 1986, in the company’s custom tool business. Following a one-year break overseas, he returned to the Metal Box fold, and completed a marketing management diploma.
‘I then had the bright idea of becoming a rep,’ Dave continues, ‘so I joined Drury Redman selling machine tools. While I was working there, I came up with my next brainchild – why not start my own toolroom business?
‘During my time with Drury Redman, I had forged many contacts with mould manufacturers and that was a good starting point,’ he says. ‘I consulted Ian Roberts, a Drury Redman colleague, and my mother put the business plan together,’ he recalls with a chuckle. ‘And then the SBDC granted me a loan to start the business.’
That was the breakthrough Dave needed, and he single-handedly set about drafting, turning and grinding. ‘In those early days, I did everything myself, but slowly the business grew and I began to take on staff.’
Today, by way of comparison, the business employs 48 people, including mould designers, CNC programmers, tool makers, admin staff, polishers and other specialists.
Having started life in Teakwood Road in a 4m x 4m toolroom, Spec Tool & Die moved to its current premises in Jacobs 15 years ago.
Return to packaging roots
‘In the early days, we tackled almost any job, but eventually we returned to our packaging roots,’ Dave explains. ‘And today we’re totally focused on packaging – primarily designing and producing moulds for injection moulding and injection blow moulding machines.’
Underlining its success in this field, Spec Tool & Die’s customer list reads like a who’s who among packaging and consumer goods companies – including Astrapak, Mondipak, Nampak, Unilever, Tiger Brands, Precision Valve, and numerous others.
Asked about challenges met and overcome, Dave remarks that these have centered on people and capital investment.
‘But the people we now have are fantastic,’ he says happily. ‘Our skilled staff are part of our success; and 90% of our staff have been trained in-house.’
Dave also places great value on the ongoing support of Spec Tool & Die’s customers. ‘Our excellent customer base was built up gradually. With lots of cold canvassing initially, it took years to gain their confidence. But customers found that once they give us a chance to supply, we delivered on time and provided the right tool. A mould is a huge investment for our customers; and we’re only as good as the last tool we make!’ he jokes heartily.
If Dave has to pinpoint one memorable project over the years, it has to be producing the mould for the award-winning Aromat container.
‘The Aromat mould was a global design initiated in South Africa, with an eight-cavity mould for a tamper-evident flip-top lid. It was a first in this country and a real global achievement,’ he says proudly.
‘It was a challenge having the entire development on our shoulders, but when it was completed it was really gratifying,’ he adds.
History relates that Spec Tool & Die were among the prize-winning teams who walked off with overall Gold Pack trophies for the Aromat container and the Rich ’n Creamy ice cream tub on two consecutive occasions. ‘Our Sasol mould is entered in this year’s contest, so maybe we can make it a hat-trick of three-in-a-row,’ Dave quips.
An integral part of Spec Tool & Die’s award-winning mould design process is the inclusion of Leanne Cahi, managing member of Specialised Industrial Design. Once briefed on a new design, Leanne completes hand rendering and her team builds the technical aspects with the customer’s input.
Chronic skills shortage
Asked about industry changes over the last two decades, Dave identifies the strides in computerised technology. ‘What used to be hand work is now done by CAD/CAM and CNC machines,’ he notes.
But on the other side of the coin he says the local industry is in dire straits with vital skills and experience being lost through emigration. ‘We’ve
fallen drastically behind as a country,’ he maintains.
Dave is on the board of directors of the Tooling Centre of Excellence in Durban, spearheading a training course, funded by the government to the tune of R40-million. ‘We’re currently going through a “train the trainer” programme – teaching newcomers to the industry. The programme is still in its infancy, but we’re making inroads and we’ll see great results in the next three to four years,’ Dave predicts.
So what has been the secret of this 20-year-old company’s success? And where is it going in the decades ahead?
‘We’ve built the business from nothing and continue to reinvest. We’ve also invested in “skilling up” local people. Above all, we’re committed to providing outstanding service and advice,’ Dave replies. ‘With one of the largest toolrooms in southern Africa, we offer in-house design facilities, and the supply of prototype moulds. Our advanced technology, coupled with our skilled staff, ensure quality is built into every aspect of the process, providing customers with moulds that allow them to compete on both international and local markets,’ he concludes.