In a game of word association, if we were to say “Mechan,” you’d probably respond with “lifting jacks.” Who could blame you – drop into your local rail maintenance facility and you’re likely to see a ribbon of the firm’s flagship yellow jacks standing to attention at the side of a track.
But the Sheffield-based manufacturer is far from a one trick pony. Its wide portfolio of heavy lifting products ranges from bogie drops and turntables to bespoke traversers, for which it holds the record for the largest ever produced in the UK. It is now in operation at the Port of Felixstowe and has a capacity of 170 tonnes.
With almost half a century of engineering experience to its name, Mechan has developed a reputation worldwide for the safety and reliability of its products. It enjoys excellent links with depot operators and train builders, working regularly with the likes of Siemens, Hitachi, Network Rail, Bombardier and Alstom.
Innovation is at the heart of the firm’s success, in terms of its business practises and product development. As larger under floor modules are introduced and pressure increases to achieve ever faster maintenance times, Mechan is focused on providing equipment that offers speed, strength and precision, enabling today’s longer trains to be serviced without decoupling.
Lifting jacks are vital for access to bogies, wheelsets and underfloor components and their control systems are a key area in which technological gains are driving forward innovation.
Mechan is using the latest networking expertise to synchronise an unlimited number of jacks, whilst still producing a smooth and safe lift. By broadcasting the theoretical position of every jack in a chain at regular intervals, each unit can make speed adjustments so precise they are undetectable to the eye, correcting any height deviations.
And as the number of operatives needed in a depot reduces, the quality of information available increases commensurately. A chain of jacks can now be operated by one person from a remote, full colour touch screen that displays useful data about maintenance and servicing. The user can monitor an entire lift or focus in on a particular jack, making it easier to diagnose faults.
Sometimes, it is necessary to commission equipment tailored specifically to the physical constraints of a location, as well as its maintenance activities. Traversers are a perfect example of large scale installations that are built to order and Mechan is making a name for itself in this field, most recently designing two for Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe facility in County Durham.
Demand for these unique machines is much lower than other depot equipment and Mechan is one of the few companies in the UK able to showcase its ability to design and build cost effective bespoke products for any size or weight vehicle.
Newton Aycliffe is using two 80 tonne traversers to help produce the new high speed trains for the InterCity Express Programme (IEP), moving vehicles between 33 tracks inside the facility and out to the test area. Without them, this sophisticated production line would have needed to be three times as long.
Each traverser is different and the pair constructed for Hitachi was made to a detailed specification. The internal unit has a special low profile design and four-metre long hydraulic ramps, to allow the pit to be used as a thoroughfare when the traverser is not in use. The external installation has a more conventional construction, but was fitted with a canopy to protect new rail vehicles from the elements.
This is just one of four IEP sites for which Mechan has supplied equipment. Working with main contractor, VolkerFitzpatrick, a set of 40 lifting jacks and an equipment drop with two bridges have been delivered to the North Pole depot in west London. As the equipment drop is located in the centre of the depot, its unusual two bridge configuration had to be designed to enable one of the bridges to retract into the pit, so it does not detract from other work and normal operations can continue when it is not in use.
The firm has also developed a further two standard equipment drops for the new Stoke Gifford depot near Bristol. All three units use the same control philosophy to establish consistency and allow trained operatives to be moved between facilities if necessary. Finally, a three road equipment drop, 40 lifting jacks with a 15 tonne capacity and two bogie turntables are currently in production for the new train maintenance facility being constructed in Doncaster, again for Hitachi.
Working on high profile UK projects such as the IEP, Thameslink and Crossrail has provided a multimillion pound boost to Mechan’s order book, securing its fortunes in the short term. Due to the long lead times and extensive planning and design processes that accompany the production of depot maintenance equipment, the challenge now is to look for future opportunities that will help the business sustain its growth and open up new markets.
Through the efforts of its management team and by establishing an international network of agents, exports are playing an increasingly significant role in the firm’s success. Trade overseas accounts at present for 20 per cent of business, a figure that grows year on year and Mechan’s products are shipped across the world to key territories including South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Expansion continues as traction is gained in Europe and the Middle East, where equipment has already been supplied to high profile projects, such as the Cairo Metro Line Three.
Mechan is also looking to Europe to enhance its product portfolio. It has forged links with manufacturers that demonstrate a similar commitment to quality and durability, to bring a selection of third party innovations to the UK and Irish markets that complement its in house capabilities.
Laser measuring is a must for checking wheel, brake disc and rail wear and Mechan is representing two of the most advanced systems on the market. The hand held CALIPRI from NextSense uses three simple lasers to record all relevant wear parameters on wheelsets and tracks, whilst Visiona’s fixed location wheel measuring device, Wheelpro, is ideal for predictive maintenance, enabling repairs and replacement parts to be anticipated and scheduled in advance.
Improving air quality and the depot environment is growing in popularity among maintenance providers looking to make cost and efficiency savings through better recruitment and retention of staff. Again, Mechan has sourced a number of products offering clear environmental benefits, including automated sandbox filling systems that use a pneumatic pipe to eliminate dust and flexible exhaust hoods guaranteeing the removal of diesel fumes at source.
A cleaner, greener alternative to traditional shunters is also available to aid the movement of vehicles around a depot. The award winning, electric road and rail shunters are emission free, relying solely on battery power to trail loads of up to 500 tonnes.
In the last eight years, Mechan’s turnover and profit has doubled, due largely to streamlined processes, plus the continued investment in facilities, technology and talented staff. The firm has secured the internationally recognised quality, health, safety and environmental accreditations, ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001 and ISO 18001 and added Investors in People to its list of accolades.
During a recent renewal of Mechan’s Investors in People standard, the assessor noted that the management team offered strong support for learning and development, both formally and informally, by encouraging employees to identify their needs. Engendering an open and friendly work environment has allowed the firm to promote ideas generation and a sense of responsibility among staff, which is reflected in the high level of customer service enjoyed by clients across the globe.
This ongoing focus on quality in all aspects of the business is attracting attention from the industry and earning recognition among colleagues and peers. Earlier this year, Mechan was presented with the rolling stock maintenance equipment prize at the international railway systems exhibition, Railtex and it has been short listed in the ‘subcontractor of the year – small’ category at the UK Rail Industry Awards (UKRIA) 2016. The winner will be revealed on February 11 at a special ceremony, held at Battersea Evolution in London.
So what does the future hold? Increasing passenger numbers and government investment in projects such as HS2 and HS3 are creating a wealth of home grown opportunities for Mechan to continue catering for the maintenance needs of existing rail depots and new build projects.
By delivering durable, cutting edge equipment and great service, the firm is positioned perfectly to attract new business on a national and global scale. The financial stability afforded by its recent success is being used to increase market share, develop new products and refine its existing range through the expansion of its design and sales teams. Apprenticeships in workshop and office roles have also been offered to a number of young people whose progress the firm sees as key to its longevity and growth.