Local foundry benefits from State rail expansion, contributes to skills upliftment
State-owned rail utility the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA’s) rail expansion and renewal project is noting much-needed large-scale orders from the casting industry, which is encouraging Bronkhorstspruit-based specialist foundry Steloy Castings to invest in new equipment specifically to service the rail industry through their newly formed Steloy Rail Division. The new Rail Division is also positioned to supply components to the major companies contracted by Transnet Engineering for the supply of 1 064 locomotives.
The aim of PRASA’s expansion and renewal project, which was awarded to energy solutions and transport company Alstom, in partnership with rail transport consortium Gibela, is to build 3 600 new trains to service domestic rail transport needs in the next ten years.
The 1 064 locomotives are destined to upgrade Transnet’s tracsion capacity.
Over the past two years, Steloy has been finalising the details of the projects with the key roleplayers, including Alstom, Canadian transport company Bombardier, US technology company General Electric and Chinese loco manufacturer China South Rail.
“Steloy has been audited several times to ensure that the company meets all these companies’ standards,” says Steloy CEO Danie Slabbert, adding that these companies will not submit orders unless their audits have been passed, which subsequently results in international exposure of the highest level.
Further, the PRASA project has also encouraged Steloy to embark on an accreditation programme, whereby several local and international standards associations have audited Steloy to ensure that it complies with the latest rail manufacturing standards. This will ensure that the company can service any rail company or project anywhere in the world.
Slabbert foresees large industry growth potential in the foundry industry, especially in terms of its ability to service the rail industry. He adds that Steloy has been working with State-owned rail company Transnet’s engineering division for the past 15 years.
“Steloy has upgraded its design, project management, castings, machining and nondestructive testing facilities to ensure that it meets the targets of large rail projects,” says Slabbert.
He adds that Steloy’s rail division could potentially double the company’s size, if all goes according to plan.
Components required for the PRASA and locomotive projects are currently in the product development phase and the first trials will be approved soon, with full production scheduled for year-end.
Slabbert tells Engineering News that rail renewal projects in South Africa are helping to establish and expand the foundries industry. “If a company wants to compete in the rail arena, it needs to ensure that it complies with the standards of the rail industry, especially in terms of management systems.”
Steloy was audited in March to achieve compliance with the noteworthy rail International Rail Industry Standard (IRIS), which is based on ISO 9001 and which is issued by testing, inspection and certification service TÜV Rheinland. The Iris auditing process requires strict ISO 14001 and ISO 18000 compliance, Slabbert notes.
TÜV Rheinland assigned its chief IRIS auditor from Italy to conduct the two-week audit. “We are confident that we will receive the IRIS certification before the end of this month,” he says.
Steloy will not only be the third South African company but also the only foundry to receive IRIS accreditation, he adds. The other two companies include a brake manufacturer and an axle producer for the rail industry.
Over the past two years, Steloy Castings has been focusing on putting management systems in place so that the company can tender for several overseas and local projects.
“Steloy’s capital expansion programme costs about R30-million, of which about 25% has been spent,” Slabbert tells Engineering News.
The company is upgrading its sand plant and sand mixers, its fettling equipment, and its nondestructive testing equipment. It also bought additional machining equipment for the supply of value-added components to locomotives and coach assemblers.
Slabbert says implementing management systems has enhanced operational efficiency through improved control and monitoring of workflows and company performance.
He adds that, in terms of effectiveness and professionalism, the new management system has improved the company’s performance 100%. “We have embraced the new and updated industry standards with a positive attitude, which is why Steloy’s success rate has been so high.”
As there is a lack of experienced and trained artisans in the foundry industry, Steloy has embarked on a training programme to assist employees and other industry professionals in becoming qualified artisans.
“The training of artisans has seriously deteriorated since the late 1990s and early 2000s,” says Slabbert, adding that nearly all the structures and institutions that previously contributed to training new artisans have mostly closed down.
However, he notes that, with various State-owned companies currently undergoing massive capital expansion projects – such as PRASA, State-owned power utility Eskom and State-owned rail enterprise Transnet – the focus has shifted towards skills development.
Slabbert tells Engineering News that Steloy realised in 2010that “artisans could complete their N1 and N2 at college, but there were no facilities at which artisans could conduct the trade tests andbecome accredited.”
Since then, the company has been training its personnel at its facilities. It has also been subject to a rigorous auditing process under the mandate of the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Merseta) and the Department of Higher Education, resulting in Steloy being accredited as a decentralised trade test centre for the industry.
Subsequently, the company has trained 16 apprentices – who have qualified, are in the process of qualifying or have entered the industry – over the past three years.
The company has also been running a programme over the past two years through which it has trained several staff members in foundry technology, which is a National Qualification Four (NQF) Level 4 qualification.
“These NQF Level 4 students have passed and are waiting for Merseta to issue their qualifications,” says Slabbert, adding that Steloy also trains interns through an internship programme.
“We currently have two interns undergoing training,” he concludes.
The skills development programme goes hand in hand with the economic development and transformation programme of the company.
A BBBEE transaction has been concluded which together with the other legs of the BBBEE requirements has positioned Steloy as a level 4 supplier.