Despite challenges, such as uncertain future business prospects, in the South African rail industry, heavy on-track maintenance machinery designer and manufacturer Plasser South Africa maintains a constant investment programme.
The programme includes maintaining a suitable number of heavy on-track maintenance machinery in good working condition that are technologically up to date.
Plasser South Africa technical director Ronnie Le Grange tells Engineering News that the company has long adopted this approach of maintaining such a programme, as it understands the importance of rail transport in the country.
“We maintain our investment programme to ensure that we can meet any future capacity demands from the rail industry,” he elaborates.
However, Le Grange points out that making sound medium- and long-term business decisions regarding costs in the industry can be challenging for the company, as it operates in a captured and specialised market – especially as some of its major clients do not have clear long-term strategies.
Therefore, Plasser South Africa aims to provide a cost-effective service for industry, as it is essential that the plants function optimally throughout its life cycle, he highlights.
“Unlike earthmoving and other off-track machines, our railway machines are specifically built for the narrow-gauge track used in South Africa and machines that become redundant have no resale value, owing to a lack of international demand.”
Meanwhile, the local manufacturing of Plasser South Africa’s machines leads to the downstream beneficiation of local suppliers, says Le Grange, adding that the machines and components are manufactured, overhauled, refurbished and maintained at a fraction of the cost and time of imported items.
“In line with the Department of Trade and Industry’s goals for the development of local suppliers, Plasser South Africa not only provides for the local market but also supports Plasser machines in Southern Africa,” he says.
Le Grange mentions that it is important for Plasser South Africa to provide its clients with full after-sales service and technical support, as 90% of track maintenance is measured, planned and executed using various types of on-track maintenance machinery.
“This support has become part of the production line for rail transport and cannot be stopped or deferred without serious consequences for the rail operator.”
Le Grange says contractual requirements state that machines must be available at all times and significant penalties are applicable when machines are not available, as this results in trains being delayed or services being cancelled.
“To achieve the required levels of availability, contractors need access to specialist support, special equipment and spare parts 24/7.”
Le Grange tells Engineering News that Plasser South Africa plans to maintain its leadership position in the South African rail supplier space by continuing to be a partner to its clients rather than a contractor.
With full support from its shareholders, and Austria-based partner firm rail-track maintenance and track-laying machines manufacturer Plasser and Theurer, Le Grange says Plasser South Africa can respond to the changing needs of clients. The company can also align its business plans and strategies with clients, while planning for and investing in new products and technologies with a long-term view.