Owing to substantial investment by government in imported railway locomotives in recent years, as well as its goal to prioritise localisation, heavy diesel engine and component remanu- facturer Metric Automotive Engineering says there is extensive scope for the local remanufacture of locomotive engine components – specifically for diesel engines and diesel engine components.
“While an insufficient population of these engines in South Africa precludes the country from producing the new components locally, the country has the necessary engineering technology and skills to remanufacture them to original-equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs’) specifications,” says Metric Automotive Engineering operations director Andrew Yorke.
He notes that, previously, South African railway operators relied on international skills and capabilities to have these repairs done, but Metric Automotive Engineering is part of a number of local diesel engineering specialists offering remanufacture services to the rail industry. Yorke believes that rail operators should capitilise on this offering.
While Yorke commends the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI’s) commitment to localisation, he expresses his consternation over government’s lack of clear plans to ensure local content in the remanufacture of locomotive engine component segments.
“To keep these units running, government needs to define and implement a plan in the locomotive engine remanufacture segment so that its positive potential to develop our economy can be realised.”
Yorke warns that failing to do so makes South Africa susceptible to the risk of having to send these engines back to overseas OEMs for refurbishment. “This would be a missed opportunity that our economy cannot afford. The country’s railway operators often have to rely on international skills and capabilities to have repairs done,” he states.
He stresses the importance of remanufacturing to exact OEM standards for localisa- tion to benefit from the remanufacture of locomotive components.
“This obligation necessitates the intervention of the DTI once again, to facilitate agreements with global OEMs for the local technical benchmarks of remanufacturing and to clearly define and set repair instructions.”
Meanwhile, Yorke mentions that Metric Automotive Engineering has been at the forefront of diesel engine technology develop- ments for more than 40 years, and it leverages this experience through its extensive capability in remanufacturing diesel engine components and complete diesel engines.
He points out that South Africa has high-quality technology in place, with the company’s Germiston facility using two three-axis CNC block remanufacturing machines – two of only sixteen that are available globally.
“These, along with other specialised machines, can perform remanufacturing work done by OEMs while meeting their exacting standards. Moreover, these machines are able to undertake essential repairs to the top side of these engine blocks, a repair process previously not available locally.”
Yorke believes that South Africa should not alienate international OEMs through its focus on localisation, but rather that an ongoing commercial relationship between the country and international OEMs can continue to exist through international OEMs’ supply of consumables, parts and other specialised expertise. He notes that these international OEMs’ high-capital investments will be lever- aged to build the country’s industrial foundation for job creation and skills development.
Through South Africa developing its capacity to remanufacture locomotive engine components, South Africa will gather momentum and use the expertise to become a service hub for various other components on locomotives – “a hub that could serve the whole continent”, Yorke indicates.
He adds that the adoption of the required skills sets for local remanufacture can be expanded and used in the dismantling and reassembly of complete engines.
Yorke posits that the “scale of this potential” should warrant government’s dedication to the rail component sector under Operation Phakisa, as has been the case with components for the mining and the ocean economies.
Operation Phakisa is a fast results delivery programme launched by government in July 2014 to help implement the National Development Plan, with the ultimate goal of boosting economic growth and creating jobs.
“South Africa still has a substantial skills-base in rail-related expertise dating back decades, but the experts are ageing and we risk losing the benefit of sharing this experience with new entrants to the labour market. Time is not on our side,” concludes Yorke.