Diesel engine maintenance for construction machinery consumers in Africa

Christopher Judd, Service Engineering Lead – Sub-Saharan Africa

Cummins Inc., a global power leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from diesel and natural gas engines to hybrid and electric platforms, as well as related technologies, including battery systems, fuel systems, controls, air handling, filtration, emission solutions and electrical power generation
systems. Headquartered in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.), since its founding in 1919, Cummins currently employs approximately 58,600 people committed to powering a more prosperous world. Cummins serves customers in about 190 countries and territories through a network of some 500 company-owned and independent distributor locations and approximately 7,500 dealer locations.

Construction Review magazine conducted an exclusive interview with, Cummin’s Christopher Judd, Service Engineering Lead – Sub-Saharan Africa in regards to the diesel engine market in Africa.

1. How is the African diesel engine market in general?

This year is a milestone for Cummins as it is our centennial. We will set a new record by manufacturing over 1.5 million engines in 2019, and servicing about 12 million engines in the field globally. What that means is that there are big opportunities for business, particularly in Africa. In terms of both new and existing customers, these opportunities extend to first fit and repowers, which means taking an existing piece of equipment with a different engine, and how it can be improved with a Cummins solution.

Competition is strong on the continent. Our strategy to ensure our customers have the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) is fourfold: Reducing repair cost, maintenance cost and time, rebuild cost, and fuel economy. Fuel comprises approximately 75% of the TCO. Not only do customers have to purchase the equipment, it also needs to be maintained properly in order 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.

  1. How are your diesel engines best suited for the African market?

Africa is an interesting continent in that 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 NO 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 after treatment systems rely on ultra-low sulphur diesel, which is not readily available on the continent.

  1. Are there any new technologies in the market with regards to environmental conservation?

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. However, Cummins also offers a large range of natural gas engines. We are fully set-up to provide support in this regard. Then we also offer dual-fuel engines, which is an ideal solution for customers in remote areas of Africa where they have an unreliable diesel supply.

A good value-add we offer for the construction industry in particular is that if a customer wants to purchase a second-hand piece of equipment from the Europe or the US, for example, where it is required to conform to a specific emissions level, we offer a sulphur tolerance kit that essentially removes the after treatment components and modified the electronic controls so it becomes a lower-tiered engine specifically for African conditions.

This is an ideal solution for cost-conscious owners of large equipment fleets, such as the construction industry and mining. However, fully electronic engines with after treatment technology as opposed to purely mechanical engines are a future trend. In South Africa we are carrying out some work on after treatment systems in particular in order to slowly start moving towards this goal. Globally Cummins is also adopting an electrification strategy.

In terms of alternative fuel sources, whether natural gas or diesel, one has to bear in mind the specific high torque requirements of heavy duty construction equipment.  Cummins’ electrified power strategies will mainly focus on on-highway applications and port equipment but we are constantly exploring new ways to bring customised solutions to ensure success for all of our customers.

  1. How is the reception of these technologies?

The market in Africa is particularly difficult as we need to service the requirements of customers wanting more uptime from their equipment, and customers focusing on the bigger picture in terms of the TCO and wanting to reduce their fuel consumption. Ultimately, we will always supply the best solution for the customer and the application, be it an electronic or mechanical engine.

Sometimes when we encounter product issues in the field, it is often due to misapplication, such as engines being used in dusty environments without adequate filtration and/or maintenance strategies. We have a team with specialised tools, equipment, and knowledge to assess a customer’s fleet – from construction to mining. For example, our engine engineering team can advise on how best to store and handle fuel, oil, and coolant on-site in order to prevent contamination. This is critical, as we have a lot of remote customers in Africa.

I would say that, as long as there are no regulations pertaining to emissions, and as long as fuel-supply quality issues predominate, customers will opt for engines without after treatment, as these deliver a lower TCO and also meet the specific application requirements.

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 reduced fuel economy.

At the same time, they 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.

It is getting better. There continue 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, our customers cannot be monitoring 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.

  1. What advice would you give to construction machinery consumers with regards to diesel engine maintenance?

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 that there is both soft and hard contamination that is not visible 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.

Our construction customers in particular 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 authorized 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. Customers have to bear in mind that when a service engineer comes to site, in order to get to the root cause of any failure, we require accurate service and maintenance records to determine precisely what happened prior to engine failure.

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? 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.

  1. What is the future of Cummins for the African consumers?

Sub-Saharan Africa includes West, Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa, from Senegal to Djibouti. The merger of the African and Middle Eastern business units in 2016 has required us to adapt. The customer base in the latter is different, and so are the operating conditions, which are focused on extreme temperatures.

In Africa, my team’s focus is to identify and prioritise 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.

Our team supports all types of equipment and applications, from on-highway vehicles to forklifts and reach stackers and tractors in the agricultural space. Mining is a big portion of our business, and is a large focus for our future direction. We have just established a Master Rebuild Centre and Parts Distribution Centre in Morocco to service the mining industry in Northern Africa. We are investing significantly in the mining space.

One has to bear in mind that engines are but a single component we supply, and they also form part of gensets, which also include cooling packs, controls, and alternators. Here we have a power generation team dealing with any issues in this regard.

What continues to give us the leading edge in Africa is our Fleetguard filtration product range, for which we have both technical and sales support across the continent. A lot of engine suppliers do not offer that, which makes us a much more favourable choice in terms of ensuring the lowest TCO.

What continues to give Cummins the leading edge globally is its depth of experience and support, all the way back to the factory. We are also adopting a smarter approach in that we are being much more proactive, and anticipating any product issues before they become problems in the field. We are closing the loop between the customer and the OEM.

 

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