World-Class Engineering at Home in the Bay

Grant Hancock
5 months ago

I recently had the privilege of being invited to tour Excel Tooling Manufacturers’ manufacturing facility by Product Design Manager Justin Seale.

Excel Tooling, established in 1993, is an automotive sector focussed tooling manufacturer based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. For those unfamiliar with what exactly a tooling manufacturer is, Excel Tooling designs and manufactures advanced machinery used at various stages of automotive vehicle and parts assembly. These machines usually allow for controlled and accurate handling and manipulation of automotive parts during assembly, allowing other machines (such as robotic welders) to carry out their functions accurately.

Most of us know that the automotive sector is critically important to the economy of Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. But it is hard to visualise what auto-sector growth looks like. It is tempting to look to the large automotive assembly plants such as Volkswagen or Mercedes-Benz to gauge the success of the sector. It is not as simple as looking at the number of cars produced. There are dozens of small and medium sized manufacturers in the sector that often get overlooked.

As an economist I’m acutely aware of the important of export growth in developing our economy, so I love to hear about local companies succeeding internationally. Put simply, without exports our local businesses are forced to compete with each other for a small market. Indeed they must also compete with imports! But exports allow businesses to grow beyond the limitations of low local market demand and in so doing contribute to local market growth.

Excel Tooling is one of the shining lights in our manufacturing sector. Originally only providing tooling solutions for the local automotive sector, Excel Tooling has developed a strong reputation overseas for delivering world-class tooling machinery. 70% of the companies sales now originate from foreign markets, with demand internationally high for their services.

When asked about competition, Mr. Seale relates that Excel Tooling does not concern itself with local competition. “We are not competing over the same clients. The international market is big and we are all doing different things.” In fact Excel Tooling has built strong relationships with many other local manufacturers. Excel Tooling regularly partners with other local manufacturers on projects. The products their clients require are often complex and require multiple specialised components. “Partnering with other manufacturers allows us to focus on what we do best. Our partners bring in their specialist skills and the end result is a world class product”.

Excel Tooling’s clients include advanced auto-motive sector manufacturers in Germany, Poland, Romania, India, and Mexico. This growth has only been possible with the use of the latest technology, software, and highly skilled talent.

Mr. Seale related that the international growth potential for South African manufacturers is high. The limiting factors are the high capital outlay for new machinery (to expand production) and the identification of highly skilled talent. Mr. Seale, however, noted that although Excel Tooling requires highly skilled talent, there are opportunities for talent development and growth through the company. (Mr. Seale himself started as an apprentice out of high school and worked his way up to the role of Head of Design at Excel Tooling.) “What we need is people willing to learn, work hard, and importantly have the right attitude”. Indeed this is a sentiment shared by many in the manufacturing sector.

Excel Tooling is the type of company that South Africa needs, and a brilliant example that manufacturers in Nelson Mandela Bay can compete with the best in the world. Far too many companies in South Africa limit themselves to the domestic market believing that exporting is too difficult, or that market access is too challenging. The truth is that we have the capabilities and expertise to excel internationally.

Grant Hancock

Managing Director, RAMP Economics