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Rotran

Moving loads on the roads

Written by Ellie Duncan & Produced by Adiele Nazer

The creation of an abnormal loads division in the early part of the 20th Century by the South African Railways was a significant step for the transport industry in the country. The increasing demand for the transportation of large dimension and heavy loads that could not be moved by rail required a new set of specifications and regulations.
Moving loads on the roads

The creation of an abnormal loads division in the early part of the 20th Century by the South African Railways was a significant step for the transport industry in the country. The increasing demand for the transportation of large dimension and heavy loads that could not be moved by rail required a new set of specifications and regulations.

Today, the design of vehicles for the movement of abnormal loads is confined to the requirements of the South African Railways (SAR) for operation through some of its provinces.

Dennis Child, General Manager of Rotran, explains that the equipment and vehicles used to transport abnormal loads in South Africa is specialized. “There is a distinct difference between the equipment that Rotran operates and the European specifications,” he says.

Rotran, which is a member of the Eskom Group, was formed in response to Eskom’s need to transport transformers at a time when it was focused on the construction of thermal stations. Prior to Rotran, abnormal loads were transported by rail on behalf of the Group. However, the company decided it was more efficient to create its own division for this specialist operation.

UNIQUE FLEET
“Because of the fleet that they inherited from the railways, they were the only people in South Africa that had the capacity to move large electrical transformers with a capacity of 150 tons up to 350 tons,” Child says of Eskom. “We have by far the biggest fleet in South Africa.”

Not only does Rotran operate a sizeable fleet, but one that is unique to the South African
abnormal loads market too. Its fleet boasts the largest highway truck in the world – something that has not gone unnoticed in the record books. The truck’s high powered engine meets the industry’s technical requirements of 2.75kw/per ton, which is why the vehicle utilizes a 709kw Cat engine. The driving wheels added onto the 10 x 10 increase traction.

In addition, Rotran has invested a substantial amount in new equipment over the last four years, which means its capacity has increased from 9,000 tons a year, to up to 24,000 tons annually, according to Child.

The company responsible for manufacturing and supplying Rotran’s vehicles is Nicolas Industries. Not only has it built the majority of its trailers, but also all the new equipment that Rotran has purchased since 2005.

The loading conditions in South Africa are slightly different when compared to Europe. It is required to have as much spacing as possible, so Rotran operates spacing of between 2 meters to 2.5 meters. Meanwhile, European trucks and trailers operate spacing closer to 1.55 meters.

The last of the company’s new equipment is due to arrive in the latter part of April. “When you forecast to buy new equipment like this, it’s a large volume of money,” acknowledges Child. “In 2006/2007, we determined what the growth was and we extended our fleet to cater for that.”

Rotran primarily carries transformers on behalf of Eskom, although it is also tasked with transporting generators, thermal power stations and, in some cases, nuclear.

Perhaps the company’s most recent achievement was the successful delivery of Sasol’s Advanced Sythol Reactor. The dimensions of the load bordered on the extreme, according to Child; it was 21 meters long, nine meters high and nine meters wide. The reactor was a critical aspect of the Secunda Growth Program, and it had a “ripple effect” across the economy, not only when it came to job creation but also in reducing South Africa’s reliance on fuel imports.

A NEW GENERATION
Last March proved a bit of a turning point for Rotran. This was when it really ramped up the acquisition of new equipment. It was at this point also that the company decided to change the demographic of its workforce.

Child explains that the company had observed that the majority of its employees were over the age of 45. Although its older drivers were perfectly capable of carrying out the job required, Child was concerned what this would mean for the company in the long-term. “They have the experience,” he says of its older drivers, “but I think it’s essential to introduce the younger generation.”

With that in mind, Rotran took steps to rectify the imbalance in its workforce. “We started a training program for young drivers,” he explains. “So we employ under-privileged, previously unemployed youngsters and take them through a training program to get them up to an acceptable level.”

Child doesn’t deny though that the working conditions can be tough, with some drivers on the road for up to eight weeks at a time.

Now, there is a succession plan in place and the long-term future of the company is much more secure – the balance has been redressed.

LOOKING AHEAD
In terms of its order books, Rotran also finds itself in a good position. In 2007, it moved just over 13,000 tons of cargo, according to Child, while that had risen to 15,000 tons last year. In 2010, where the financial year is from March to March 2011, prospective work is likely to bring that figure close to 24,000 tons.

“2011, as it stands now, has 15,000 tons of cargo on the books and 2012 I think has almost 9,000 tons,” he adds. “We actually try and forecast 10 years in advance.”

This may seem unusual but the type of equipment used by Rotran lasts at least 30 years anyway. It would seem that Rotran’s continued investment in both its equipment and employees has put the company at the forefront of the abnormal loads sector.

Child is proud to say that it has continuously worked to a high standard throughout its existence; something that can also be attributed to Eskom.

“Eskom is very strict on its quality requirements and, over the years, we’ve developed key values – it’s paramount that we follow that quality model,” says Child.

To sum up Rotran in its own words: “Quality in motion”.

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