The new Isando-based factory of Canada-headquartered industrial motors manufacturer IEC Holden has invested in local content and will supply the South African rail industry with alternating-current (ac) traction motors for locomotives, of which it has built 23 and delivered 21 by the end of last year.
IEC Holden took occupancy of the 7 000 m2 factory in June 2014, after which the company started acquiring local equipment and embarked on a skills development programme to skill motor-building personnel.
As a result, the company has black economic empowerment Level 3 accreditation, with the Isando facility ISO 9001- and ISO 3834-certified.
Production started in September last year with IEC Holden manufacturing motors for Canadian train manufacturer Bombardier, which will be installed in Bombardier’s Traxx Africa locomotive and sold to State-owned freight logistics company Transnet.
Transnet is embarking on a rail infrastructure renewal programme, part of which includes an order for 240 Traxx Africa locomotives.
Each locomotive is equipped with six ac traction motors – one on each axle – which feature built-in gearboxes and are also manufactured by IEC Holden at its Isando factory. This equates to IEC Holden’s having been contracted to build 1 440 ac motors and gearboxes. The motors produce 660 kW and weigh about 4 t each.
The Isando factory currently employs 105 personnel, but this number is set to increase to more than 300 during 2016 as production ramps up.
IEC Holden has invested more than R250-million in the new facility over the past
19 months while also investing significantly in supplier and skills development.
IEC Holden operations director Ralph Robinson tells Engineering News that, after establishing the factory in 2014, the company embarked on the qualification process with Bombardier and Transnet to have their motors certified for use in the Traxx Africa locomotive, which took place from May to September last year, after which it was authorised to start production.
“We have been in series production, although at low volumes, since September,” he says.
IEC Holden president Rob Briscoe notes the motors are designed by Bombardier specifically for South African rail conditions, based on a proven platform that Bombardier has had in place globally. He adds that Bombardier is accounting for local performance requirements, temperature parameters and temperature variants, as well as the South African railway gauge on which the Traxx locomotives will be operated.
IEC Holden points out that the local content of the motors is 70%, which includes all the major aspects of the motors, including manufacturing of castings and coils, machining, winding, painting, insulation, fabrication and welding of stators, brazing and balancing, as well as the testing of the completed units before they are sent to Bombardier.
“We do as much manufacturing in South Africa as we do in our other international facilities,” says Briscoe, adding that the company also has manufacturing facilities in Canada, the US and Mexico.
Localisation was paramount for the Transnet project, as Robinson explains that the locomotive supplier network in South Africa has not built a new locomotive in 35 years. In this regard, local skill sets have been focused on refurbishment, repair and maintenance of existing locomotives, and, subsequently, it was a significant challenge for IEC Holden’s supplier network to understand and meet original-equipment manufacturer requirements.
He adds that IEC Holden’s investment in the Isando factory has subsequently led to the introduction of the technology and capability to manufacture new original-equipment locomotive motors for the South African and African markets – a capability that had previously not existed.
In line with Bombardier ramping up its production of the Traxx Africa locomotive in 2016, IEC Holden will also ramp up its production line to meet Bombardier’s requirement.
“At full production, the Bombardier manufacturing facility will be expected to produce about three locomotives a week. So, we obviously have to keep pace with that rate of production, which translates into our producing about 18 drive units a week,” says Robinson.
In 2016, IEC Holden will commission additional cranes and ovens besides other new equipment required to ramp up to full production.
“We currently have the equipment to perform low levels of production. Additional equipment required will be duplicates of certain tooling,” he says.
Briscoe further points out that the company’s new facility has a lot of potential to be used as a springboard into Africa and any other market that requires large electrical motors for purposes such as oil drilling.
“There is also the flexibility to export motors to overseas clients to meet international orders,” he concludes.