The largest balancing machine in Zambia was recently successfully commissioned at Marthinusen & Coutts’ Zambian operation in Kitwe. The fully upgraded 12 ton Schenck machine is capable of balancing rotors up to 12 tons at operating speeds up to 3300 r/min, 5.5 metre in length and with diameters of up to 2.2 metres.

Careful planning and execution by Marthinusen & Coutts, a division of ACTOM, ensured that the machine was successfully installed, calibrated and commissioned. The local M&C team received training to ensure optimum operation of the machine.

The in-house ability to precision balance rotors to very high accuracy is a valuable service to customers in the region, and it will no longer be necessary to transport large components across border to South Africa for this work to be done. This local dynamic balancing service also expedites the repair process, reducing delivery time, and avoiding the risks associated with long distance transportation. All this translates into a bottom line cost reduction for customers because of the quicker turnaround times.

The service will prove to be invaluable to customers and OEM’s operating in the Copperbelt region, and underpins Marthinusen & Coutts Zambia’s position as the leading electro-mechanical repair facility in the region.

Over a period of four years Marthinusen & Coutts Zambia has successfully upgraded its test facilities which can now accommodate both AC and DC motors. The facility also boasts a temperature-controlled burnout oven, curing ovens and vacuum pressure impregnation (VPI) tank. Furthermore, winding verification ensures that stators and rotors are wound to international and OEM specifications. Further upgrades have also been implemented to the mechanical repair shop, which also offers machining, milling and submerged arc welding.


ACTOM Turbo Machines, a division of ACTOM ,recently manufactured high precision impellers and pinions for a large 190 kg/h 20 bar pressure integrally-geared multi-stage centrifugal compressor to replace these components after they had been destroyed when the compressor failed.

When the Vanderbijlpark plant of Air Products South Africa, leading producers and suppliers of gas and chemical products to industry, awarded the refurbishment contract to Sasolburg-based ACTOM Turbo Machines late last year, it stipulated a period of three months for completion of the project so that the compressor could resume operation as quickly as possible.

At the same time the refurbishment of the 2 500 kW 11 kV 2 pole AC induction motor that drives the compressor was assigned to Marthinusen & Coutts, ACTOM Turbo Machines’ sister business unit in Johannesburg.

The compressor is used for direct supply of nitrogen by pipeline to two of Air Products Vanderbijlpark’s largest customers in the Vaal Triangle.

“Three months is an extremely tight timeframe as it is about a third of the time that would normally be allocated for such a complex task, especially taking into account that we had to manufacture the replacement impellers and pinions by a reverse-engineering process, which was necessitated by the short turnaround time as set,” Chris Bezuidenhout, ACTOM Turbo Machines’ managing director, says.

“In addition, we had to ensure that the tolerances between the various components were strictly adhered to, these being especially critical in this instance as the compressor is a four-stage high-speed unit operating at speeds of between just below 20 000 r.p.m. and in excess of 33 000 r.p.m..”

Both the first- and second-stage impellers and pinions had to be replaced by newly manufactured units. “We manufactured all these to a tolerance with a margin of error of 0,02 mm, which is well within the norm to ensure extra protection against any risk of damage during operation,” Bezuidenhout points out.

All the rotating components, comprising the gear set, impellers and pinions, were balanced in accordance with the international ISO 1940 specification. The compressor was then assembled and delivered to site where together with the motor, as modified by Marthinusen & Coutts, it was installed by ACTOM Turbo Machines technicians in Air Products’ plant.

Further critical procedures carried out by the business unit comprised laser alignment and fault-finding on all pipe stresses before making ready for commissioning, followed by a rigorous step-by-step start-up procedure. “The start-up procedure is critical to protect the machine against possible damage during the run-in period. This is concluded by running of a surge curve to confirm that the unit has been run-in successfully and is operating optimally,” Bezuidenhout explains.

He adds : “During commissioning Air Products personnel were exceptionally hands-on and supportive and assisted us wherever possible.”

The work performed on the motor consisted of a modification to the rotor to reduce the excessive vibration that the unit experienced when Marthinusen & Coutts assessed it at its main electrical rotating machines repair and refurbishment facility in Cleveland, Johannesburg.

Mike Chamberlain, the division’s operations executive, says: “With ACTOM Turbo Machines and Marthinusen & Coutts attending to all the mechanical and electrical work covered by this contract, the customer has had the benefit of enjoying the complete one-stop solution that we now offer.”

Mike du Toit, Air Products Vanderbijlpark’s central operations manager, says the project as executed by ACTOM Turbo Machines was a model of professionalism. “They kept us up to speed with what was happening on a continuous basis, so that we could communicate with our customers to explain exactly what the situation was at any given time.

“I would like to have what happened here happen on all our projects where specialist contractors like ACTOM Turbo Machines are involved. We had some delays on this project but they were well communicated and actions were put in place to mitigate the delay,” he concludes.


Even as cost cutting eats into maintenance budgets, companies can avoid catastrophic failures if they adopt the structured approach offered by specialists like Marthinusen & Coutts.

Marthinusen & Coutts is a division of ACTOM and according to the division’s projects and engineering services executive, Craig Smorenburg, an effective maintenance programme starts with proper buy-in from the client and their engineering team, as well as from the original equipment manufacturer.

“If all stakeholders understand and support the importance of a structured maintenance programme, then the next step is to agree on the most critical equipment in the client’s facility,” says Smorenburg. “These assets are the ones that must be most closely managed, as they impact directly on the whole operation’s success and sustainability.”

A further study is then conducted to ascertain which elements within each item are critical to maintain, and how the OEM maintenance guidelines must be applied.

“We then develop a strategic level-based maintenance plan, which considers all maintenance requirements and activities,” he says.

“We generally advise clients to conduct their weekly or monthly maintenance activities in-house, otherwise they lose touch with their equipment and lose the necessary skill.”

Marthinusen & Coutts promotes continuous improvement through engaging with its customers. Smorenburg says that this regular interaction between the division and the customer ensures that recommendations are addressed and action plans are realised. A Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is also followed.

The division has developed its own level based maintenance schedule that incorporates OEM guidelines. This takes the best of each of the OEM requirements to come up with a maintenance schedule that is suitable for all equipment.

He emphasises the skills transfer that occurs when Marthinusen & Coutts technicians are on site with a customer’s maintenance staff.

“We encourage customers to involve their teams in the maintenance activities that we conduct, so they can benefit from transfer of skills from the specialist,” he says. “This gives them hands-on training on how the maintenance should be conducted.”

He says they have applied this approach on a number of sites around Africa, and have noticed a significant improvement in machine condition when they go back to conduct the six month inspections.


Marthinusen & Coutts, a division of ACTOM (Pty) Ltd, is consolidating its role as an integrated electrical and mechanical services provider across Africa, and internationally. Together with subsidiary, ACTOM Turbo Machines, the division offers the full range of maintenance, repair and special manufacturing services of electric motors, generators, turbo machinery and other high speed mechanical rotating equipment.

Richard Botton, Divisional CEO, Marthinusen & Coutts, says both Marthinusen & Coutts and ACTOM Turbo Machines have a long and proud history of serving customers on the continent. He ascribes the ongoing success to a combination of diligent planning, a culture of problem solving and providing innovative solutions; a sense of urgency, industry-leading skills, and having the necessary infrastructure and resources in place, both in South Africa and in strategic African countries.

Marthinusen & Coutts is unique in that it is the only independently owned service provider that is capable of providing extensive maintenance, repair and special manufacturing solutions for all electrical and mechanical rotating machinery.

“We are well positioned to carry out critical projects both in Africa and globally, having access to all our resources in South Africa as well as our well-equipped facility in Zambia, which provides immediate services to our customers in that region, with all the sought-after advantages of a local facility, plus the full backup of M&C and ACTOM’s resources in South Africa,” Botton says.

Marthinusen & Coutts has an extensive reference base of successfully completed projects, innovative maintenance solutions, record turnaround time breakdown repairs, and numerous on-site maintenance contracts.

He is quick to caution about the difficulties of providing maintenance services in African countries, with some companies lacking the necessary infrastructure, expertise and extensive experience that Marthinusen & Coutts is known for on complex projects and emergency repairs.

“A critical factor is that Marthinusen & Coutts has been involved in Africa for more than a decade, and as such have a sound knowledge of what it takes to deliver a quality solution to our customers in the countries in which we operate,” Botton says. “It is our in-depth understanding of African conditions that allows our teams to get there, make a plan, manage and execute projects; and that is on an ongoing basis with numerous repeat customers.”

The key differentiator for Marthinusen & Coutts is its rapid response time, inherent sense of urgency, culture of dedicated customer service and ability to mobilise quickly and efficiently in tackling critical projects. “We understand our customers’ business needs and that they cannot afford unscheduled downtime. Many of these projects are vital to ensure regular power supply to mining projects and other sectors, so our speed, understanding and service delivery are all essential,” Botton says.

In addition, all Marthinusen & Coutts branches have direct access to the Centre of Excellence in Cleveland, Johannesburg. Critical equipment at this facility includes a 32 ton balancing machine, extensive testing capabilities and a fully equipped machine shop including CNC machines.

“While these advantages give us the competitive edge, Marthinusen & Coutts is also adept at thinking out of the box and renowned for its flexibility and ingenuity,” Botton says.

“Our long-term strategy is to become the preferred integrated electrical and mechanical services provider for the power generation and mining industries in Africa and across the globe,” Botton notes. “What gives us the leading edge in terms of these African contracts is that we can leverage the other divisions within the ACTOM Group to provide us with additional manufacturing capability, products, and expertise,” he concludes.