Moving Brazil: Building Locomotives in the Heart of South America0

Nelson Vasconcelos | Thu May 24 2012

The GE Transportation unit in Contagem, Brazil appears, at first, like a factory that produces giant toys. The parts arrive, workers fit the pieces into place and, in a few days, they produce a new locomotive that weighs up to 200 tons. In 2011, the GE team assembled no fewer than 115 locomotives, a rate of production that proved no one is there to play.

The factory’s success is explained by industry-leading logistics, technology, innovation and optimism. Each locomotive order presents a new challenge and the 80 in-house technicians are working to fulfill orders faster every day. The team, led by manufacturing leader Ricardo Tavares, can produce a locomotive in two-and-a-half-days on average. The unit operates 24 hours a day, solving puzzles composed of somewhere between 18,000 and 30,000 pieces.

“Our challenge is to make the logistics work so that we can produce the locomotive on time, according to the customers’ needs,” says Tavares.

Two AC44i locomotives can replace three of the older DC models and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 2,600 tons.

It takes about eight months to produce a locomotive, from the time the order is placed to final delivery. The production time involves commercial and technical feasibility studies, production and parts assembly, customization and final painting. Product manager Gustavo Borges says that customers are increasingly asking for personal adjustments. Many clients, for example, want to provide more comfort for the driver. “The clients tell us how they want the driver’s cabin to look, and we customize it,” Borges says.

The GE team has developed a hermetically sealed locomotive testing cabin. This prevents the loud noises and gases generated during the 24 consecutive hours of tests from harming the cabin environment. “There is nothing like it in the world,” says Luciano Nakamura, the manufacturing manager.

Respect for the environment is an important issue. The ecomagination-certified AC44i model, produced in Contagem, has received special attention from GE. For comparison’s sake, two locomotives of this type can replace three of the older DC models and reduce the volume of annual CO2 emissions by more than 2,600 tons, in addition to saving over 950,000 liters of fuel annually.

“These figures represent a boost in productivity,” explains Márcia Gomes, Director of Marketing and Government Relations.

Gomes notes that GE is making an important contribution to the economy through the renewal of the Brazilian fleet of locomotives. In 1997, 1,154 locomotives were criss-crossing Brazil. Today there are about 2,000.

We hope demand grows quickly so we equip the whole country with these wonderful machines.

And there’s more on the way. The federal government has initiated the construction of 10,000 km of new railways, which will nearly double the effective capacity of the Brazilian railway network by 2023. The government and private sector realize that the railway system is critical to increasing productivity in Brazil, which means the prospects for new orders are good.

“The country’s infrastructure requires improvements in transportation in general, and everyone knows that rail transport is very efficient,” says Ricardo Tavares. “We hope demand grows significantly so that we can equip the whole country with these wonderful machines we produce here.”

Photos: Nelson Vasconcelos/ecomagination