Amid current economic pressure, high energy costs and power grid uncertainty, the agriculture sector in South Africa is starting to favour higher capital expenditure on advanced technology because of the resulting long-term reductions in operating costs, says drive engineering company SEW-Eurodrive sales manager Willem Strydom.
“There have been mixed feelings about the higher cost for new technology, but this is shifting as the long-term savings benefits become clearer,” he tells Engineering News.
He mentions that smaller players still seem to prefer conventional methods and equipment, simply because it is less expensive upfront, but the bigger players are rapidly changing their way of doing things.
SEW-Eurodrive has been helping clients in the agriculture sector to better understand this cost-to-benefit ratio by performing detailed on-site surveys at no extra cost to the client.
This involves detailed power measurements, including comparisons between older technology and newer technology, with calculations taking into account, for example, power and downtime costs for every site, to help to accurately determine capital expenditure amortisation figures.
“We have been doing this across the country, with surprisingly good results. There have been cases where we expected to calculate about 30% in savings, but we ended up averaging at just over 40%,” Strydom says.
With a dedicated research and development (R&D) division in Germany, the company consistently releases modified or new products to keep up with or anticipate the ever-changing demands of a variety of industries.
Some of the R&D is geared specifically towards the agriculture sector. “It is very important that we try to remain at the forefront of technology. With Industry 4.0 on the horizon, we need to keep developing and evolving with our clients as the shape of the industry changes,” Strydom notes.
For example, SEW-Eurodrive standardised on the use of IE3-compliant premium efficiency motors across all its products in 2017. While the company still offers technical support and limited stockholding for the older series of motors, it is no longer supplied on new projects.
Stricter international regulations have meant that all two-, four- and six-pole asynchronous motors with a power rating of 0.75 kW to 375 kW must meet the requirements of the IE3 energy efficiency class in the European Union (EU).
South Africa currently does not face the same regulatory pressure as the EU in terms of energy efficiency. Therefore, the company decided to supply these motors to the South African market at competitive prices to ensure that the same standards are met across all international markets, while avoiding placing undue cost burdens on local clients.
SEW-Eurodrive’s South African arm is focusing on the agriculture sector as a future growth area.
“Our involvement in the agriculture sector is definitely growing. We have a number of large projects over the next three years,” Strydom states.
While many small-scale agriculture-related projects across the country continue to bring business for local original-equipment manufacturers – for which SEW-Eurodrive supplies motors and drives for small conveyors and mixing plants – he notes that most of the large-scale projects that the company is involved with currently are in Africa, outside South Africa.
One exception, however, was when South Africa-based modular feed mill manufacturer Dalein Agriplan built a 100 t/h feed mill in the Free State for a major beef producer last year. SEW-Eurodrive supplied 120 geared motors for the project.
SEW-Eurodrive is supplying 135 motors to a 100 t/h feed mill project of a similar scale in Nigeria, which is being built for a food producer.
With these larger projects, which require a large number of drives and motors, Strydom stresses the need to ensure on-time and full deliveries, which can be especially complex for export orders.
“It is important for us to have set relationships with clients, hence, our involvement from the quoting stage to final commissioning. This helps us to ensure that we plan our stockholding and production capacity accordingly,” Strydom concludes.