Italian team currently on site to install Africa’s biggest 5 Axis milling machine

For a while it seemed it wouldn’t fit in. But the future has finally arrived in Paarden Island, and it is looking good.

Africa’s largest 5 Axis milling /CNC /5D printer is being bolted into place literally a spinnaker-length away from some of the country’s biggest boat yards. It’s a beast of a machine, 20m long and requiring a completely new stress-tested foundational slab that has put a broad smile on the face of the man behind it all, Clinton Johns.

Johns is probably better known to boat builders as the MD of Phoenix Marine, which successfully partnered with US investors to produce the Xquisite catamaran range. He is also known for his background in composites, notably with his firm Duroplastic which he has built up over 35 years.

Now his Omegaverse project looks set to put Cape Town on the world map as a regional centre of global CNC and 5D printing technology.

Johns, who spoke to SABBEX recently at the Omegaverse facility at InoSpace hub in Cumberland Road, Paarden Island, believes his machine is a potential game-changer due its ability to churn out superior product – at a fraction of the effort. The accuracy, economy of scale, and efficiency are three key Omegaverse advantages that traditional production methods will struggle to match, even if underpinned by other smaller CNC/3D printer machines.

Johns says composite and thermoplastic manufacturing could be the big winners, with the huge production time saving likely to be a major draw-card for boat builders, particularly in the load shedding era where lengthy production cycles face disruption.

“We are going down to 0.025 mm accuracy,” said Johns, who has a new spring in his step ever since the first rivet took hold inside the shed which he sublets from Paramount Africa. “You’re just not going to get that kind of detailing in a traditional yard because it’s just not possible with our workforce,” Johns said.

Similar machines are already well established overseas, particularly in Europe, home to some of SA’s biggest catamaran-producing rivals. They use advanced technology to trim components and maximise efficiencies in a way that local yards would need to replicate if they wish to keep in touch. “Between two and four years ago the Europeans started to maximise their efficiencies with these big machines,” said Johns, who is fairly big on detail, particularly when it comes to outlining his meticulous research.

In a nutshell, this is how the machine works: In one end goes expanded polystyrene, polyester, epoxy, MDF, and plywood. Out the other end come architectural pieces, marine tooling, art sculptures, film sets, aerospace tooling – the list is as wide as your imagination.

Johns believes the machine is a no-brainer for local marine manufacturing, for obvious reasons: “The ability to get an overseas (or local) designer to send a parametric digital file to them from anywhere in the world, makes South Africa once again on the tongues of many potential owners of one off racing boats (power or sail) . Omegaverse can mill a ‘female or male plug’ for the one off, make the boat and dispose of the plug.”

Johns has assembled a skilled project launch team in the form of Chad Swart, directing and heading up operations; Devon De Freitas – Qualified Toolmaker, 3D printing & CAD CAM programming; and CNC operator Kelvin Ruzvidzo.   The team is likely to grow as the machine becomes fully operational.

The Omegaverse mission statement is as sharp as the machine: “Disrupt the industry & become pioneers of large scale 3D printing in SA. Creating infinite product development through re-purposed waste.”

The list of potential beneficiaries covers just about the entire business ecosystem. It reads as follows: “1. Marine Industry (Commercial & Leisure) 2. Renewable Energy (Wind Turbine) 3. Automotive (Electric Vehicles, composite components, tooling) 4. Architecture (building facades, bridges, construction 3D Printing) 5. Residential 3D printed low cost housing, cosmetics, features) 6. Railway 7. Aerospace 8. Art Industry 9. Film Industry 10. Prototyping R&D 11. Waste Economy, Green Economy, Circular Economy.”

Just about everybody, in other words.

Johns is also stoked – as a water sports enthusiast he won’t mind the term – about the machine’s final resting place, which forms part of an innovative work hub space that could provide a pool of potential clients, in the form of young creatives from various professions. With property developers circling Paarden Island, Omegaverse is well positioned close to the City centre and the industrial heart.

It’s a favourable outcome for a massive investment project that was not without hiccups, with Johns forced to abandon an initial plan to locate the business on the outskirts of town, where he ran into zoning and land-use issues. He is now confident that Cape Town will soon take up its rightful place at the centre of the Omegaverse.

Here’s the last word from Johns: “Anyone is welcome to visit the facility and see this monster being built and go through its commissioning. Maybe earlier than later as the facility might be locked down to make the next America’s Cup boat or TP52….?”

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