Spoornet hopes to save millions using IT

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 06 Jun 2007

State rail utility Spoornet is hoping to save millions of rands by using just-in-time IT-driven preventative maintenance on its wagon wheels.

Bent axles and cracked wheels have long been the bane of railway operators and a leading cause of accidents and unnecessary wear-and-tear.

In recent decades, the traditional wheel-tapper, using years of experience and acute hearing to guess the state of play, has made way for technology, such as that sold by rail engineering and technology company Ansys.

The company has sold a seventh electronic wheel profile monitoring system to Spoornet, announcing the R11.7 million contract on the eve of its listing on the JSE's Alternative Exchange tomorrow. Two of the installations have been earmarked for rail networks in the Ermelo area and one will be installed at Bhizolo.

Electronic wheel profile monitoring systems allow the wear and tear on rail carriage bogey wheels to be measured remotely as the train passes the installation so that preventative maintenance procedures can be followed, if required. Ansys has sourced the know-how from MRX Technologies in Perth, Australia.

Ansys MD Alan Holloway notes that with this deal, the company's orders in hand for delivery this financial year are now already at 85% of forecast. The company projects revenue of R121.3 million and profit of R18.4 million for 2008. Turnover for the year ended February 2007 was R78.8 million, translating into an after-tax profit of R12 million.

Ansys has also raised R30 million from institutional investors ahead of its listing tomorrow by issuing shares at R1 each in a private placing. The company plans to use some of the money to fund future strategic acquisitions in the rail industry. It is also looking for opportunities in east Africa, either through existing customers or by acquisition.

"Our technology can be applied in road transport, but we haven't done it yet," says Holloway of another growth area.

This focus on rail does not mean Ansys is exiting the defence business, Holloway says.

"No, we are already focused on rail, and that business is growing quite quickly. But so is our defence business.

"We are involved in the Rooivalk project and will continue to support that. We are also negotiating for a part in Project Hoefyster [the SA Army's R8 billion armoured vehicle acquisition] and we are a subcontractor in BAE System's R200 million helmet order from Denel Optronics," he says.

Ansys is also a subcontractor to Aerosud to upgrade and support a number of second-hand Mirage F1 fighter-jets to Gabon.

"Defence is important for us; it accounts for 15% of turnover and is a good training ground for engineers, but our feature is a rail electronics firm."

Related stories:
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Who needs radar?
Ansys eyes African rail signal market
Ansys wins R60m Spoornet order
UK railways implement SA tech