Somta Tools was founded in 1954 by Samuel Osborn Ltd of Sheffield, England. The name Somta is an acronym derived from the names of Samuel Osborn (founder of Osborn Steels U.K.), and Robert Mushet (the 19th century inventor of High Speed Steel).
The full name being Samuel Osborn Mushet Tools Africa.
Original Products: Somta started out producing Twist Drills, Reamers, Toolbits and Chisels with a complement of about 20 employees.
A First: One of Somta’s claims to fame is that its former parent company produced the first Twist Drill made from High Speed Steel. Prior to 1870, twist drills were made from a flat piece of steel and then physically twisted, hence the name. Thereafter the flutes were produced on milling machines until the grinding method arrived.
Milestone: One milestone worth a mention is when Somta purchased a Hertlein drill flute grinding machine in 1963, even before the parent Sheffield company bought one. This machine is still in operation today. This machine grinds the flutes of a drill (up to 13mm diameter) in one pass in a solid hardened blank. This was unheard of in those days.
Growth at Somta (1963 – 1979): Somta gradually grew in both output and number of employees. Numerous products were added to the range during this period. In 1979 the company was purchased by Haggie Ltd, one of the largest steel rope manufacturers in the world. The South African mining sector was their biggest market.
Continued growth at Somta (1980’s): With Haggie as its owner, Somta progressed and accelerated its growth. This was achieved by investment in capital equipment and by acquisition.
Introduction of Friction Welding (HSS body, EN9 shank): Somta introduced friction welding in 1980, the first cutting tool company to do this outside of the UK.
Introduction of CNC Grinding Machines: In the early 1980’s, CNC grinding machines were being developed in the USA and Europe for this industry. Somta purchased a number of these machines. This technology ensured greater consistency in quality and enabled Somta to enter and compete in world markets.
Clarkson & Mitco Acquisition: Somta acquired Clarkson Tap and Die South Africa (conveniently located next door) in 1982 and Mitco Tools Pietermaritzburg in 1984. Clarkson had about 60 employees and Mitco about 160. The Mitco premises were closed with all of the employees and machinery moving to the present Somta site at Edendale Road.
Factory Expansion & Divisions: Working space was at a premium with so many more people and additional equipment. It was therefore necessary to extensively add factory space. It was decided to establish separate factories for product types, for instance Steel Stock and Blank Prep, Drills, Taps, End Mills and other factories.
Each factory had its own manager who was responsible for hiring staff, training, quantity, quality, cost etc. This occurred in 1986 and this concept remains today. The employees in each factory became product specialists.
Change of ownership (1999 – 2003): In 1999 Haggie decided to ‘unbundle’ its non-core or non-mining related companies, of which they had quite a few. Somta was then purchased by Brooke Industrial Holdings in the UK. Unfortunately Brooke ran into difficulties in 2003 and went into liquidation. Somta then underwent a management buyout largely funded by the SCMB (Standard Corporate Merchant Bank).
US$ 2m Investment in Balzers Coating Plant: Immediately after the MBO in 2003, Somta integrated a state of the art Balzers PVD Rapid Coating System into it’s manufacturing programme, offering the innovative range of Balzers BALINIT® high performance coatings on all cutting tools. This has enabled Somta to offer coated cutting tools to compete with the very best high tech tool producers in the world.
Machine Development at Somta: One of Somta’s strengths is its ability to design and develop its own cutting tool manufacturing machines in-house. Originally initiated because of a weak Rand and long delivery times from machine tool manufacturers. There are obvious competitive advantages of in-house machine building.
Somta Workers get 7.5% stake: In late 2010, Somta Tools launched an empowerment initiative through the establishment of the Somta Employees’ Trust, which gave the company’s 500 employees a collective 7,5% stake in the company.
This all came about when management bought-out, and restructured the company, from its main shareholder, SCMB (Standard Corporate Merchant Bank). The deal was part of the company’s broad-based black economic empowerment strategy in its attempt at initiating its own “African Renaissance” with the aim of making employees feel like they are part of something great.
Carbide production facility expansion: In 2012 Somta invested over ten million rand that year alone on state-of-the art CNC equipment, which saw the company quadruple its carbide tool manufacturing capacity, thereby improving delivery times.
Included in this investment was a Walter Helicheck Basic 3, for non-contact complete measurement of rotationally symmetrical precision tools with complex geometry, which significantly improves quality and inspection procedures as well as 7 other machines with a further 3 to be added.
To accommodate these new machines and allow space for further expansion, the carbide production facility was extended from 130 square meters, to 418 square meters. This expansion allowed for a dedicated test and training facility which included the addition of a HAAS VF-3YT CNC vertical machining centre, to test, run and enhance current and new tool designs, as well as for training purposes.
SOMTA can now utilize its state-of-the art R&D facility to find solutions to difficult machining applications or material types. SOMTA is able to simulate the production conditions so that their customers no longer have to break into critical production lines to conduct testing. No other facility on the African continent boasts the combined manufacturing, measuring, coating and testing capabilities.
Product Distribution: Somta has about 370 distributors in South Africa making it the market leader. Somta exports to 70 countries around the world. 58% of sales are to the export market. Somta sells to distributors, catalogue houses and a number of other cutting tool manufacturers worldwide.
Product Range Today: Somta offers 7 000 standard items, and a further 3 000 made-to-order items, to DIN, ISO, ANSI and JIS standards, as well as custom tools to drawing.
Staff Complement: Somta currently employs more than 400 people in total, which includes the Johannesburg sales office and warehouse.
Factories: We have separate factories for Blank Prep, Heat Treatment, Drills, End Mills, Taps, Reamers, Specials, Carbide and Coating all on one site.
Company Size: A few years ago Somta professed to be the largest cutting tool manufacturer in the southern hemisphere. We are not so sure about that now, so we just say that we are ONE of the largest.
Company Vision: A world class provider of cutting tools. This vision is supported by being ISO 9002 which was achieved in 1991 and ISO 9001 in 2003 and 2008.
Company Mission: To manufacture and supply superior cutting tools, driven by a culture of service excellence, to global and domestic markets.
To commemorate its 60th anniversary, a book was written on the history of Somta Tools by Charles Severn, a former long serving Director and Shareholder.
The name SOMTA is an acronym for Samuel Osborn Mushet Tools Africa and these names have a rich history behind them.
Samuel Osborn was a large well known steel manufacturer and it established a factory in South Africa as an outlet for its special steel products.
From small and humble beginnings Somta grew into one of the largest cutting tool manufacturers in the southern hemisphere.
The book aptly named 'Tool Story', begins in Sheffield England in 1826 and progresses to the present day.
Engineers cutting tools are technical products and even though the book mentions the steels, equipment, the manufacturing processes etc, the book is interesting and easy-to-read.
It pays tribute to those who contributed to the growth and continued success of the company which includes not only its employees, but its customers and suppliers.