Africa is not for sissies. However, it is a place with abundant opportunities for business provided it is prepared to move forward – and this forms part of Cummins’ centennial year plans for international companies operating in Africa.
It also plans to cap its centennial year by setting a new record in 2019, manufacturing more than 1,5-million engines and servicing about 12-million engines in the field globally.
“What that means is there are big opportunities for business, particularly in Africa,” according to Christopher Judd, Service Engineering Lead – Sub-Saharan Africa, Cummins Africa Middle East.
“In terms of both new and existing customers, these opportunities extend to first-fits and repowers, which means taking an existing piece of equipment with a different engine, and how it can be improved with a Cummins solution.”
While competition is strong on the continent, Cummins’ strategy is to ensure the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) for its customers.
This has a fourfold focus: Reducing repair cost, maintenance cost and time, rebuild cost, and fuel economy. Fuel comprises about 75% of the TCO. Not only do customers have to purchase the equipment, it also needs to be maintained properly to extend its useable life. Running costs are critical, which is an area where the competition is the toughest.
“In terms of the engines we currently rebuild for the construction industry, we upgrade to the latest technology, which not only allows for the most efficient engines, but is still within the customers’ price range,” says Judd.
The challenge posed in Africa is it is non-regulated in terms of emissions. The rest of the world is divided into two broad bands: The Northern Hemisphere, which subscribes mostly to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions regulations and the Southern Hemisphere, where European Union (EU) agencies regulate Latin America, Africa, and Australia.
International companies not only have a major drive for emissions compliance from a regulatory point of view, but also because it impacts positively on their corporate image globally. South Africa is slowly coming into line, mainly in the bus and automotive industries, in terms of NOx and particulate matter emissions.
“Hence the main driver in Africa are these international companies. Our issue as a supplier of engines that adhere to strict emissions controls is the quality of the fuel supply. Our aftertreatment systems rely on ultra-low sulphur diesel, which is not readily available on the continent,” Judd points out.
Fuel contamination is probably the single biggest maintenance issue in Africa. From a superficial perspective, customers tend to think that, if the fuel looks clean, it is. However, the reality is there is both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ contamination invisible to the naked eye.
“In terms of maintenance, the market has to be educated about contamination at the microscopic level. That extends to all the engine systems, not only fuel, but also air intake, cooling, and lubrication systems,” Judd stresses.
“Our construction customers typically have large fleets, ranging from 50 to 100 pieces of equipment in different locations. My advice to these customers doing their own services as an authorised entity is to keep accurate records of all service and maintenance. It is quite difficult with remote locations to rely on a service manager to record everything, as well as to ensure that all equipment operators abide by the operating instructions and guidelines.”
Another major issue is storage and handling, which not only refers to spare parts and components, but includes coolant, lubricants, and the fuel itself. All dispensing nozzles, for example, have to be kept off the ground and capped at all times in order to prevent contamination. Handling is critical, as contamination can be introduced without the customer even being aware of it.
“The construction industry presents us with typical issues that have to be distinguished between genuine product issues, or operational and maintenance issues. Has the application been catered for adequately? Is there an element of misuse whereby an engine is being operated outside its recommended guidelines?” Judd points out.
“This is easier to analyse with an electronic engine, which has an electronic control module that logs all events on-site, as opposed to purely mechanical engines that do not have remote monitoring or diagnostic capabilities.
“As an engine supplier though, we have to be sufficiently dynamic and flexible to inform our customers that we have two main options, mechanical and electronic, and will specify the best solution possible. If a customer is operating in remote areas where there isn’t a lot of service support, and the fuel quality is not ideal, then opting for mechanical engines is best. Of course, this is an older technology, but it is more robust, and can deal with more arduous operating conditions.”
At the same time, however, these customers are not getting the maximum benefit from fuel-cost savings. Cummins’ electronic engines have modular common rail systems that provide high performance combined with fuel economy. However, these are highly susceptible to dirt and contamination, which calls for an excellent maintenance regimen.
“Here it is often difficult for a customer to know what is best. Hence, we often take a step back to work closely with the OEM or equipment supplier to explain the specific requirements upfront in terms of duty cycles and load conditions in order for customers to have access to the most optimal solution possible,” Judd reiterates.
“It is getting better,” he stresses. “There continues to be issues in terms of misapplication, and we sometimes have to favour mechanical engines over electronic ones, but customers are becoming more aware of the importance of preventative maintenance. A lot of the time we rely on information from the service intervals to tell us when to look at an engine, especially in the construction, mining, and industrial segments.”
However, the service intervals are generally just a broad indicator. Conditions and applications differ, which impacts on maintenance requirements. Here is where Cummins can offer a solution. Obviously, customers cannot monitor their engines 24/7.
“That is not their core business. We can provide solutions that do just that, setting limits for service intervals, and recommending the lubricants, oils, and coolants – all based on hard data. The drive for remote monitoring systems, and to improve our diagnostic support, is a major push for Cummins,” Judd indicates.
The Cummins Service Engineering team’s focus in Africa is identifying and prioritising any emerging product issues in the field.
“We also support hard-to-diagnose complex troubleshooting, whereby we liaise closely with our factories in the UK, the US, and China. Lastly, we also provide training and communication for any new product releases, including processes and tools.”
Looking to the future, Judd is of the opinion diesel as a primary fuel is going to be around for a long time. The technology will, in most cases, be more cost-effective than gasoline due to its efficiency.