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Robotic Welding Cells The proposed R300-billion investment programme by Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) is set to not only streamline South Africa's railway capabilities but also potentially create business opportunities and job sustainability for sufficiently prepared local private- sector industry component manufacturers, such as the rail cluster of internationally recognised manufacturing and engineering company DCD Group.

DCD Group MD Rob King is confident the local private sector is fully equipped and prepared to service TFR's substantial upgrade programme, which includes buying 599 dual-voltage electric locomotives and 465 diesel locomotives over a seven-year period.Rail infrastructure development plan secures local content.

"This is an exciting time for TFR and for the South African railway industry. There is a feeling of anticipation and excitement within the DCD Rail cluster and we have strong expectations that the private sector will have the opportunity to add real value to this high-profile programme, which also provides us with an opportunity to further expand our reach in the export market," he explains.
DCD Rolling Stock GM Petrus Mulaudzi highlights the R240- million recapitalisation programme at DCD Rolling Stock as an example of the DCD Group's preparedness to take on a project of this scale.

"The recapitalisation programme is essential in promoting in-house skills development and growth in DCD Rolling Stock. Despite years of downturn, the railway industry in South Africa looks set for rapid expansion, especially with the substantial TFR investment.
"DCD Rolling Stock has proactively prepared for this by investing in its people and infrastructure to ensure long-term sustainability for the private sector in this industry," he explains.

Owing to its large-scale nature, the company's recapitalisation programme will be rolled out over a three- to five-year period. Phase I involves a R100-million investment in the regaining and upgrading of it s 42 000 nr manufacturing facility, in Boksburg, and its manufacturing equipment.
 
"The DCD Group has invested R80-million to regain this facility from our sister company DCD Protected Mobility, which has moved to a new purpose-built manufacturing plant in Isando, Gauteng.

"An additional R10-million was also spent on the installation of four robotic welding cells in October 2013, while the balance was spent on repairs," states Mulaudzi.

DCD Rolling Stock manufacturing manager Frank Ramage indicates that the implementation of Swedish-engineered Motoman automated robotic welding cells will increase production volumes, in addition too more efficiently using the skills of experienced manual welders.

"The two larger cells have a reach of 3.2 m, weigh 5 ton each, can currently weld structures up to approximately 9m in length and, owing to the modular design, can be extended beyond 12 m to 18 m to ensure faster turnaround times.

"By incorporating these robotic welding cells into the manufacturing lines on straight weld jobs, we redirect experienced welders from this standard and mundane task to more complex projects containing curves and corners that require their skills," he notes.
Ramage states that automation will not downsize staff numbers, but will rather increase product volumes, such as bogies for freight wagons, while improving worker morale and productivity through effective skills use.

"Automation will allow for the welding of four fabricated bogie frames, each about 7.5 m in length, with the capacity to increase by extending the rail and tracks.
"It will also allow for the simultaneous adding of additional robots, as opposed to a single bogie being used, during the manual process, substantially improving lead times for the customer. A higher level of work complexity positively engages the manual welders and encourages them to produce higher-quality work, he posits.

The next phase of DCD Rolling Stock's recapitalisation programme is geared towards creating complete ill-house manufacturing capabilities. "In essence, it entails further investment in the machinery required to support the product ranges being manufactured at the plant, such as fabricated bogies, locomotives and the new jika passive hydraulic steering (PHS) system," explains Ramage.

DCD Rolling Stock product engineer and jika PHS inventor Pat Smit indicates that the jika PHS is a technological breakthrough in hydraulics. The system is undergoing full rail-service trials and serves as a more efficient, reliable and cost-effective alternative to the current mechanical linkage system used on locomotives.

It is expected that the trials, which are being conducted by DCD Rolling Stock, will be concluded by the end of this year, with commercial sales of the jika PHS planned for 2015.

Smit concludes that another major benefit of the jika PHS is that it can reduce flange wear eight fold.

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