Keeping the power on and consistent at Lucchini

38 days of production lost last year because of loadshedding and poor supply. Company invests in two 570kVA generators.

In 2017 Lucchini RS, the Italian manufacturer of forged railway products, invested R200 million in a new production facility in Germiston in Ekurhuleni to machine railway wheels. It was the first international forged wheel manufacturer to make some investment in manufacturing facilities in South Africa. The group partnered with black South African investors Kusini Investments who currently hold a substantial amount of shares in the local company. Previously Lucchini had actively traded forged railway wheels and axles in South Africa for over 13 years. The company was subsequently awarded long-term contracts by strategic customers to supply locomotives, freight wagons and passenger coach wheels.

The group committed to localise wheel machining in the country and to subsequently create jobs locally. Lucchini SA was created to complete the manufacturing process of blank wheels imported from Italy. This included machining, inspection and delivery to the end customer such as Transnet and Bombardier.

Last year the company installed a further two machining centers to cope with increased demand. The R25 million investment will take the company from processing 20 000 wheels per annum to 30 000 wheels.

Lucchini have invested in two 570kVA generators that run on Penta Volvo motors and are equipped with Leroy-Somer alternators. The investment is to keep the plant running with clean energy or when there is loadshedding or bad supply

“Machine tools include numerous motors and auxiliary components. Energy consumption varies significantly during operations. The main spindle drive and the coolant system, for example, work near rated power while roughing at a high stock-removal rate, but power consumption during finishing is significantly lower. Close interdependence exists between individual components and subassemblies on the one hand and productivity and quality measures on the other. From the process itself to individual component power consumption, savings potential can be evaluated and measures defined for more efficient energy use,” explained Nico Myburgh, Operations Manager at Lucchini SA.

“Precisely adjusting power settings can be time-consuming and laborious, even for the most experienced operator. In response, OEMs have made strides in integrating intelligent functions into the machine, functions that reduce tedium and guesswork while simultaneously improving productivity and surface quality,” continued Myburgh.

“One area of potential savings comes from the machine tool base load, which consumes energy even in non-productive phases. The base load is determined substantially by the machine’s auxiliary components. Besides use of energy-efficient motors in these components, many opportunities for reducing the base load can be found. Some energy consumers, for example, can be switched off by the machine control during non-productive phases,” said Myburgh.

“Manufacturing with accuracy from the very first part can therefore be decisive for energy efficiency. Machine designs with balanced thermal behaviour and precise position measuring technology have a distinct advantage.”

“Industry 4.0 has been a big driving force in manufacturing today, and there are a few factors that are driving Industry 4.0. Data, connectivity, and the customers are the most important things moving Industry 4.0 along faster. Big data is making companies smarter and more efficient,” added Myburgh.

Lucchini can process up to 30 000 wheels a year

“In many countries hurricanes, ice storms, wildfires and natural disasters of all kinds leave countless people without electricity each year. However, keeping the power on in South Africa is the challenge and when it is on, having clean electrical power is certainly not a guarantee, especially if you are being supplied by the local municipality and not directly from the main power utility. Clean electricity is electrical power that is free from voltage spikes and drops. Voltage ripple or noise that is outside the ideal sine waveform is sometimes referred to as dirty electricity or electrical pollution. Dirty electricity can cause electronics to perform poorly, especially microelectronics,” explained Myburgh.

38 days of production lost
“Like many in South Africa we were continually being load shed and when the power was on it was poor quality. We worked it out that last year we lost 38 days of production because of the power supply problems. I am sure many other businesses around South Africa would have experienced the same numbers as us. In rand terms it amounts to many billions.”

“It is one thing to have a generator that keeps the lights on or you invest in solar power to do the same thing, but it is another to get sufficient power to run four CNC machines, as is our case. After a four-month study we decided to invest in two 570kVA generators that run on Penta Volvo motors and are equipped with Leroy-Somer alternators.”

“Potchefstroom, North West Province based company Genco SA have been responsible for the whole installation of generator equipment and cabling and our landlords, Improvon Properties, took care of the civils required for the installation of the two containerised generators and the new paving and vehicle shading.”

Product waiting to be delivered to the local rail industry

“Although the generators can hold 1 000 litres of diesel themselves we have also installed an extra 4 500 litre tank to cover for longer periods of not having power.”

“The generators are fully automated and computerised switchgears maintain a constant load supply and stability. We even invested a further R800 000.00 in a filter that accounts for our machines being supplied with clean power. This can be the difference where a surface generated resembles a bed of gravel or one generated that looks more like a closely compacted group of smooth lily pads.”

“Every Friday the switchover is test run. We don’t wait for loadshedding to test the system.”

“Power consumed by a CNC control with feed-axis and spindle motors frequently comprises as much as 30% of the total required for a metal-cutting process. With the relatively high base load of machine tools, minimising non-productive phases is a high priority. Minimising non-productive phases because of no power is an even higher priority for us.”

“As far as we know we are the only company in South Africa running its CNC machines off generators. There is nothing complicated about it. It just makes sense,” concluded Myburgh.

For further details contact Lucchini SA on TEL 087 806 5371 or visit