SEW-Eurodrive SA, a specialist in drive and control technologies, currently services 23 countries throughout the African continent from South Africa. “With the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) protocol, which came into effect in early 2021, and a push to grow manufacturing on the continent, we are expecting African markets to account for around 50% of our turnover within the next few years,” says MD, Raymond Obermeyer.

In this light, the company moved into its new state-of-the-art 26 000-m2 headquarters complex in Aeroton, Johannesburg, earlier this year. The new complex more than triples the floor and factory space that was available at its previous premises. 

Built and equipped at a cost of R200 million and modelled on SEW-Eurodrive’s showcase factory in Graben-Neudorf in Germany, the facility – which accommodates approximately 150 employees– makes extensive use of the latest technologies to effectively network people, processes, services and data.

Engineering team

It will play a pivotal role in allowing SEW-Eurodrive to service the burgeoning Africa market efficiently. The facility houses not only the group’s African head office but also an assembly plant for industrial gears and electric drives, expanded central warehousing and repair facilities. It also encompasses assembly and repair of all VSD’s, AGV’s and Servo motor technology.

The company employs multiple mechanical, electrical and mechatronic engineers to further support technical customer queries. In addition, the facility accommodates SEW-Eurodrive’s Drive Academy, which delivers product awareness and maintenance training to customers. Online and virtual AR training and support is also now available. 

Minimal delay

The expanded warehousing gives SEW-Eurodrive the ability to increase stock levels, a huge benefit given the problems currently affecting the global supply chain. It means the company’s customers in Africa will be able to able to get orders for new equipment or spares fulfilled with minimal delay.

“The new facility allows us to service our customers more efficiently, reducing the high cost of unplanned downtime and allowing them to adhere to their scheduled maintenance programmes,” Raymond states. “Ensuring our customers’ continued productivity has been the key driver behind the development of our new premises.”

Industry 4.0

Over a three to five-year period, SEW-Eurodrive will incorporate further 4IR technologies, including automated assembly machines and guided vehicles, into the Aeroton factory at a cost of an additional R200 million.

“We are working hard to shape the factory of tomorrow with system solutions for Industry 4.0 and a focus on raising productivity and implementing smart maintenance while, at the same time, providing ergonomic support for the people working in these facilities,” notes Raymond.

Money where its mouth is

SEW-Eurodrive has used its own technology to automate operations at the Aeroton facility, with the main production conveyor being based on the company’s high-tech MOVI-C all-in-one modular drive solution which is now being introduced to the African market. 

In essence, MOVI-C is a suite of products which includes controllers (PLCs), variable speed drives, gear motors and servomotors, that automate drive applications, whether they be simple or very complex.

Productivity gain

The installation, which has resulted in a 40 % productivity gain, includes the Movigear mechatronic drive system. The Movigear units – which combine an energy-efficient IE5 motor, gear unit and corresponding drive electronics in a single housing – control and drive the production conveyor. The modular nature of the installation means it can easily be extended in the future should the need arise.

The assembly line for geared motors can accommodate 7 000 units per month while assembly of industrial gear (IG) units is currently being ramped up to between 100 to 140 IG units per month, doubling current capacity. New spray booths and automated oil filling stations have been installed to cater for these volumes.

Excellent sales

Among the products to be produced at the new facility  are SEW-Eurodrive’s modular air-cooled condenser (MACC) drives, which have already experienced excellent sales in South Africa with two units having been installed recently in the Northern Cape and a further 24 units at a Limpopo site. 

Forming part of the M-Series modular IG range, the MACC is a purpose-designed gearbox solution for driving the modern fan-based air-cooled condenser systems used in steam-driven power generation units. 

Modular approach

SEW-Eurodrive will stock a single casing size with multiple components and specific ratios depending on which power station requires the drive. This modular approach will enable the new facility to custom assemble MACCs at a rate of approximately two to three units a week, drastically cutting the long lead times typically associated with equipment of this type.

Other notable products to be locally assembled include the New Generation X.e Series industrial gears; the P-series planetary industrial gears for high torque mining applications; short importation and commission lead times for mill drive solutions with power packs; electric motors; and the customised single-stage M1 range of speed reducers, which consists of 37 options for fine-tuning a drive’s output speed and torque.

Illustrating the benefits of the new Johannesburg facility, SEW-Eurodrive anticipates being able to assemble and test customised M1 units within two to three weeks from an order being placed. Previously they had to be imported from overseas with lead times of between 16 and 20 weeks. 

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