Artisans show their skill with chess set crafted exclusively from Vesconite bearing materials
11 January 2024

In celebration of Vesconite Bearings’ 65th anniversary, as well as in recognition of the long service of CEO Dr Jean-Patrick Leger, who has been with the company for 32 years, Vesconite’s artisans decided to show their design, programming and machining skills by producing a gift of the first chess set designed exclusively from Vesconite’s bearing materials.

The black chess pieces, representing Vesconite Bearings’ rich history, were meticulously crafted from standard Vesconite. This low-coefficient-of-friction bearing material, invented in 1969, was specifically designed to thrive in the challenging wet and dirty conditions prevalent in South Africa’s deepest mines.

Complementing the black pieces, the white chess pieces were formed from Vesconite Hilube, an even lower-coefficient-of-friction bearing material introduced to the market in 1987. This material reflects Vesconite Bearings’ ongoing commitment to innovation and technological advancement.

The chess board itself, moreover, was a masterpiece, with black and white squares (with rounded edges) made from Vesconite and Vesconite Hilube plates, respectively. The entire composition is elegantly framed by Vesconite Superlube, a cutting-edge bearing material introduced in 2013, and placed within a frame of standard Vesconite. Notably, Vesconite Superlube boasts a coefficient of friction lower than virgin PTFE, meeting the demanding requirements for load pads in the rail sector, among other applications.

Thin sections of pink Vesconite Superlube delicately separate the squares, adding a touch of sophistication and highlighting Vesconite Bearings’ artisans’ skill at machining the thinnest parts to a great degree of accuracy.

Artisan Gaylin Van der Sandt, one of the creative forces behind this exceptional chess set, expressed, “We decided to make everything from our materials. Only a small engraved metal plate was made elsewhere.”

Noteworthy is the advanced tooling and programming skills employed in the creation of chess pieces. Using Fusion 360, artisans designed intricate details for knights, kings, queens, rooks, and other pieces, which were cut precisely on a Haas ST 25-Y live tooling machine. The complexity of the designs pushed the team to explore new functions on Fusion 360 and gain insights into the capabilities of the machines and tools, said Van der Sandt of the collaboration between a factory team that included himself, Andre Schoonbee, Herschelle Cerfontyne and Barend Spies, with the idea for the chess set originally coming from Machine Shop HOD Boeta Swart.

Schoonbee said that the most challenging pieces were the king, whose crown had to be refined using manual programming, and the knight, which needed complex programming to perfect the ears, eyes and mane.

The chess board, meanwhile, was machined using a Haas VF4 SS, a high-power milling machine on which Vesconite artisans demonstrated their knowledge of using tooling to create detailed exact parts. Discussion and engagement between the factory teams making the board and the pieces ensured that the scale of the pieces matched the board.

In a heartfelt thank-you speech, CEO Dr Jean-Patrick Leger expressed his awe, stating, “This is absolutely incredible. To everyone who made it, thank you so much.”

Leger and his wife, Dr Marianne Felix, shared fond memories of their daughters growing up playing chess, a strategic activity that not only stretched their minds but also fostered socialization. The chess set, they noted, will become a cherished heirloom for future generations.

This extraordinary creation not only marks a significant milestone in Vesconite Bearings’ history but also serves as a representation of the company’s capabilities and the calibre of staff, who displayed their skills admirably, Leger and Felix said.

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