MSC Technical Durban invests to attract more business

Over the past few years, the Port of Durban has seen larger vessels calling and this has put a strain on the resources that are at hand to speed up turnaround times and reduce the cost of doing business. The Port of Durban is a relatively small, but busy port, where large vessels have to be moved over shorter distances quickly. Going some way to relieving the pressure on the port was the latest launching of the Umkhomazi and Usiba tugs that were unveiled at a ceremony in the Durban, KwaZulu-Natal harbour. The nine tugs being built by M/S SAS, for Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), will improve the ports operational efficiency, speed up vessel turnaround times and assist bigger commercial vessels.

“The R1.4 billion investment by TNPA is a step in the right direction, but there are many other areas that need to be addressed and the Port of Durban is under prepared for servicing the new generation of ships that are travelling the high seas these days. This includes logistics, infrastructure and manpower,” said Ravy Sankaran, Technical Director of MSC Technical Durban.

“The port and the local municipality of Durban are missing out on opportunities in an industry that is fast growing and becoming ever more dynamic. If the authorities were to focus on the shipping industry and all associated service partners, it would go some way in addressing the need to grow the ship repair, engineering and service sectors and create more job opportunities in the eThekwini region.”

The new Yu-Shine VL-1000ATC +C heavy duty CNC vertical turning lathe that MSC Technical Durban has purchased comes with turning, milling and grinding functions. The machine has been supplied and installed by WD Hearn Machine Tools

“A recent case to highlight the challenges faced by the ship repair and engineering companies based here, was the freak storm that hit the area on the 10th October 2017 and the resultant damages to the harbour and ships berthed in the harbour.”

“One of the MSC Shipping Company container ships in the harbour at the time – the MSC INES – broke its moorings and ran aground in the harbour entrance. Fortunately, the port authorities could expeditiously assist the vessel and secure her back to berth, but she did suffer major damage to her steering mechanism.”

Engineering challenge
“This has created an engineering challenge for those that are involved in the repair work. Currently the Port of Durban’s dry dock (Prince Edward Graving Dry Dock) can only accommodate ships that have a width (beam) of 33.56 metres and less.”

“The damage caused to the stern block section of the MSC INES during the running aground includes the rudder blade, which weighs 131 tons, the stock, which weighs 29 tons and the stern block, including Rudder Horn that weighs in excess of 150mt. The hydraulic rams for the steering gear, tiller arms and the other internal components suffered bending damage. The101 ton propeller suffered damage to its blades and would be eventually replaced, at a subsequent dry-dock, in the near future.”

Technicians from WD Hearn Machine Tools installing the new Yu-Shine VL-1000ATC +C heavy duty CNC vertical turning lathe at MSC Technical Durban

“The challenge is to remove these large components and once repaired, replace them again. A suitable dry dock would have facilitated this operation but as there are none to accommodate the size of the MSC INES, the repairs have thus to be done afloat and this presents a huge engineering challenge. M/S Dormac has been contracted and assigned this work. Repairs of this nature to a vessel of this size and magnitude have not been done in South Africa before.”

“Keeping this ship out of service for between three to four months is also going to be costly. Furthermore, the replacement components have to be imported because they cannot be made locally and are also not available locally.”

With the South African ports located on a busy shipping route, not having the facilities to accommodate the new generation of ships results in the majority of the repair and service and dry dock requirements going elsewhere. Countries such as China, Dubai and Singapore have built their shipyard facilities and infrastructure around them and are benefitting from it. The South African authorities and the shipping fraternity need to take note and plan ahead if they want to compete and create plenty of local employment opportunities and enjoy the associated spin-offs for all the stakeholders, sub-contractors, suppliers and service providers.”

MSC Technical Durban
“The importance of offering repairs/services for the company’s ships passing the southern tip of Africa was recognised by management of MSC Shipping Company. MSC Technical Durban has been operating in Durban for nearly 25 years and is one of three such MSC Shipping facilities worldwide. Others being situated in Antwerp, Belgium and Naples, Italy.”

MSC Technical Durban has evolved into being specialists in machining, welding and reconditioning of piston crowns, and repair and recondition a sizeable amount of the company’s requirements for piston crowns

“Compared to the other two facilities, we here, in Durban work exclusively for the MSC vessels and are recognised as a ‘not for profit operation’ whereas the savings realised are inherent in the ships smooth operation, by way of improved/efficient-running abilities plus fewer breakdowns.”

“The service includes repairs and fabrication requirements, general repairs, mechanical and electrical repairs of components and running gear. We are also facilitators in emergencies, such as in the case of the MSC INES.”

“MSC Technical Durban has evolved into being specialists in machining, welding and reconditioning of piston crowns and we repair and recondition a sizeable amount of the company’s requirements for piston crowns.”

“A piston crown on a ship will need to be replaced once it has been in operation for a reasonable length of time and then be replaced at the makers recommended interval. On the older generation of ships, this used to be at 8 000 – 10 000 hours of running.”

After stripping and cleaning a piston crown and checking for any defects through NDT, MSC Technical Durban then begin a process of metal deposition

“This is one of the main reasons why we have purchased the new Yu-Shine VL-1000ATC +C heavy duty CNC vertical turning lathe that comes with turning, milling and grinding functions. The machine has been supplied and installed by WD Hearn Machine Tools. At the same time we purchased the latest version of Edgecam machining software and our machinists have been through some comprehensive training to get to know both the machine and the software.”

“Our aim in Durban is to improve/increase the number of crowns being reconditioned from the present 20-a-year number to 80-a-year in the near future. The Yu-Shine, which is the first CNC machine that the company has invested in for the Durban operation, should help us to achieve this target and once and the machinists become more familiar and conversant with the use of the machine, we will up this number even further.”

Repair and refurbishment/sub-arch weld of piston crowns
“After stripping and cleaning the piston crown and checking for any defects through NDT, we then begin a process of metal deposition. The piston crowns are naturally subjected to heavy wear while in use. The piston crown forms part of the combustion chamber in a marine diesel engine. The crown is subjected to the high temperatures in the combustion space and the surface is liable to be eroded/burnt away.”

MSC Technical Durban’s service includes repairs and fabrication requirements, general repairs, mechanical and electrical repairs of components and running gear

“For this reason, the material from which the crown is made must be able to maintain its strength and resist corrosion at high temperatures. Steel, alloyed with chromium and molybdenum is used, and some pistons have a special alloy clad welded onto the hottest part of the crown to try and reduce the erosion caused by the burning fuel. The crown also carries four or five piston ring grooves, which are then chromed.”

“When overhauling the piston, it is important to check the thinning/burn-out of the piston crown. The piston should be dismantled to check the cooling space. If this is subject to a build-up of carbon (in an oil cooled piston) or scale (in the case of a water cooled piston) then this may have led to reduced heating transfer and thermal stressing of the piston, which in turn can lead to cracking of the piston crown. If the cooling oil or water is allowed to leak into the combustion space, then the consequences could be disastrous.”

Machine capability, background and cost analysis
“The background to acquiring the Yu-Shine CNC vertical lathe is to modernise our facility with newer machines, developing new skill sets and to keep up with the changing times and requirements. The Yu-Shine CNC machine is going to increase our capability, productivity and efficiency several fold.”

MSC Technical Durban also carries out general repairs and fabrication in emergency situations

“The machine is a C-axis machine, allowing indexing and milling to be performed on the machine as well as drilling, tapping and thread milling, which is essential in the scope of work on the piston crowns.”

“The versatility of the machine, by having a C-axis, will now allow us to carry out repairs and refurbishment of large gears, housings and other similar components that need to be machined, all work that we have not done in the past.”

South African advantage
“Even though labour costs have risen in South Africa, we are still competitive if you compare us to Europe, Singapore or Dubai. For example a typical Sulzer RTA 84 piston crown would cost 6 000 euro to refurbish in Europe, Dubai or Singapore, whereas presently our cost would work out to be 2 500 euro per piston crown, duly considering the fact that several of the processes concerning machinery, sub-arc welding, heat treatment and other processes are done in house.”

MSC Technical Durban has also developed and fabricated its own products that are now used throughout the MSC Shipping Company

“Being a Chief Engineer and having spent 10 years at sea and 12 years working in MSC’s erstwhile ship management set-up in Hong Kong, I have been exposed to numerous requirements involved with ship repairs and servicing. For the last five years that I have been in South Africa, I have endeavored to transform the operation from one that was an emergency repair facility, to one that offers beneficiation. South Africa also offers a cost advantage and we have used this to diversify our area and scope of work/repair. At the same time we are creating several job opportunities for the local skilled workforce, in a currently depressed economic period.”

“The quantum of large ship repair in South Africa is low, compared to some of the other regions of the world and this has resulted in a large pool of skilled manpower remaining unutilised.”

“Considering the higher demands on speed and performance, quick turn-around in ports, vessel maintenance, overhauls, general repairs and replacement/refurbishing of worn parts could often suffer or get delayed due to paucity of time. With the changing regulatory environment, and the additional workloads and documentation pressures on the crew, shore assistance from an in-house technical facility can be useful, effective and beneficial. We in Durban intend to enhance our value offering services and become more recognised within the group.”

For further details contact MSC Technical Durban on TEL: 031 466 2227 or visit