True legend and icon in South Africa’s Machine Tool Industry Frank Thompson has died at the age of 80, following a dreadful sickness.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Frank made the decision way back in 1962 to immigrate to South Africa, which also started something of a flood of Thompsons to South Africa, many of whom also found their niche in the machine tool industry.
On arriving in South Africa, Frank joined Broderick Engineering as a Machine Tool Fitter before moving to Benoni to take up employment in machine tool maintenance and tool making.
After a few years at Parkin Machine Tools, during which time Frank rose to both a Director and Shareholder of the company, he decided it was time the family set something up and joined his brother Fred in forming F. Thompson Machinery in 1971. Over the following years the brothers developed the company as one of the leaders in the used machine tool industry.
By 1983, his two younger brothers, Philip and John, had become an integral part of F. Thompson Machinery and Frank took the decision to sell his portion to the brothers and form his own company, Harp Machine Tools.
As his other interests, among cycling, golf and horse racing, were taking up much of his time, Frank started off Harp on a very small scale. However, machinery was still much in his blood, and he found himself becoming more and more involved in the business. He once said, “it was not until my son Seamus joined me in the machine tool business that Harp really took off.”
After spending six months training in England with reputable companies Axe and Status and Wickman Exector, Seamus returned to South Africa and together with Frank they set about establishing Harp Machine Tools as one of the largest stockists of used machine tools in the country.
They both agreed to buy and sell only quality machines and not run of the mill stuff so prevalent in the used machine tool industry of that time. The company stocked some of the larger type machines, such as 80mm to 180mm horizontal boring mills, Webster and Bennets 36″ to 120″ vertical boring machines, large capacity guillotines ranging from 10mm to 20mm and 3m to 8m lathes. However, they also stocked smaller capacity machines, making them a truly one-stop-shop for the engineering industry.
While initially only dealing in used machinery, Harp eventually ventured into importing new machinery. The company became sole agents for the Kingrich range of machinery manufactured in Taiwan and soon also introduced the Harp SMTCL and Accurl brand name to the South African Market. Harp Machine Tools also represents manufacturers, such as Vertex, Easson, Sahinler, Toptech and the Baoji Machine Tool Group of China.
Frank’s name is synonymous with the local used and new machine tool industry. He was a founder member of UMTMA and has served the body as Chairman, Secretary and Committee Member since its inception and until it closed down in 2016.