Gateway into Africa!

Vanguard overcomes impossible roads to move transformers to DRC

International heavy-lift, specialised transport and plant installation company Vanguard tackled a challenging contract to relocate 15 transformers for power generation into the African continent.

Vanguard applied its specialised equipment, including its prime movers with heavy-duty modular trailers, to transport these 110 tonne transformers. It has also installed nine of these units – which each measure 5,3 m long, 4 m wide and 4,85 m high – on site in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The remaining six transformers will be installed this year.

Dennis Scholfield, Vanguard executive manager, said the complexity of the contract included the lifting of over 20 power lines along the route to allow the specialised transport through. This was done in conjunction with the country’s national electricity company, as the power supply was required to be temporarily cut while the lifts were conducted.

“While the road surfaces were generally in good condition, there were numerous small towns along the way where congestion posed a challenge,” he said. “It was also difficult at times to control the faster traffic, as our convoy travelled at a regulated 40 km/hour.”

On arrival at the site, the transformers were off-loaded onto stools in a temporary lay-down area utilising Vanguard’s hydraulic lift system. The company boasts the largest range of these lift systems in southern Africa which can handle weights from 60 tonnes to 800 tonnes. The equipment, which is ideal for use in inaccessible locations, includes the versatile ‘Power Tower’ gantry systems.

“The off-loading on site was also conducted smoothly despite difficult circumstances,” said Scholfield. “The uneven loading site was worsened by torrential rains and soft ground conditions which are not ideal for heavy loads.”

Once the foundations were ready, the transformers were lifted and loaded onto Vanguard’s self-propelled modular trailer (PST), offloaded, slid onto the plinth and placed into final position. The PSTs are another highly specialised aspect of Vanguard’s offering, augmenting its range of equipment to provide increased on-site payload. With capacity in excess of 1000 tonnes, they can be steered remotely by an operator and are perfect for load-in and load-out barging operations.

Scholfield paid special tribute to the drivers and the team for their commitment and professionalism.

“Everyone in our team has 10-15 years’ experience, and receives intensive in-house training at Vanguard – so they are all well-skilled in the diversity of tasks that we tackle,” he said. “But beyond that, they display such tenacity under very challenging conditions – including sky-high temperatures, violent thunderstorms and a punishing daily schedule to keep the job on track.”

As part of a second operation on the site, Vanguard was also tasked with relocating the dozen old 140-tonne transformers into a storage area on site using its hydraulic jack and slide system.

For this contract, Vanguard made use of its heavy-lift facility in Walvis Bay to discharge the vessel and off-load the transformers into a temporary storage facility, ready to be re-loaded for transport. Covering a gruelling 3,000 km journey from Namibia the DRC, Vanguard has successfully negotiated both the Kapolowe River bridge and the Lualaba River bridge, following intensive coordination with stakeholders to secure the necessary permissions.

“This is the first time that loads in excess of 90 tonnes have been transported by road into the DRC. Previously, the transformers being replaced were brought by rail from Angola in 1973,” said Scholfield. “We began our planning as far back as August 2014, to allow for optimal preparation, as this was an extremely challenging route.”

To ensure the highest levels of safety, Vanguard even discussed load-bearing capacity with the builders of one of the bridges.

“This led to a decision for us to cross that bridge only after 10pm, when the concrete was at its strongest – having cooled from the intense daily temperatures experienced in the DRC,” he said.

Vanguard has successfully negotiated challenging routes into Africa, and provided engineered solutions in countries including Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Namibia, Zambia, Mali, Madagascar and Uganda. In Mozambique, a previous contract entailed the transportation of a replacement transformer 2 300 km from Johannesburg to north-western Mozambique, planning and executing the move in three weeks - this despite poor infrastructure and a steep mountain pass.

With over 40 years in the business, Vanguard has become a dominant player in heavy lifting, relocation and installation of complex machinery on a local and global scale, offering turnkey mechanical and engineering services to conduct this work professionally and safely. Finding solutions for specialised transport into Africa is top of its agenda.