Grimms looking to continue partnering with SA Navy on vessel maintenance

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Having recently installed the largest engine dynamometer in South Africa for testing marine and other large diesel engines, the Grimms Group is looking to further expand its relationship with the South African Navy (SAN) on the maintenance and repair of its vessels.

The Water Brake Engine Dynamometer was initially bought to assist and support the propulsion contract Grimms has with the South African Navy, to test all the Navy’s refurbished engines. It will also be used in the Simons Town Naval Dockyard as a training facility for ship staff through simulation exercises.

Grimms CEO Shafiek Hendricks said the dynamometer, an essential part of engine testing for diagnostics and before installation, will open a lot of doors for the company. He said the Grimms marine division (Atlantic Commercial Diesel Services) now boasts the biggest dynamometer test facility in Cape Town and will be used in marine, mining, stationary power, and the oil and gas industries in both the public and commercial sectors. The H3610M dynamometer can test engines developing up to 7 500 kW/10 000 hp, at speeds up to 2 500 rpm and torque up to 50 000 lb-ft (67 791 Nm).

Grimms has an established relationship with the SA Navy, as it was in 2017 contracted to repair and maintain its propulsion units, including diesel engines, replacing previous contractor MTU, which supplied the diesel engines for the Meko frigates and Type 209 submarines. In addition to propulsion maintenance and repair services, Grimms was contracted to provide spares to the South African Navy and operate a fully functional workshop in the Naval Dockyard in Simons Town. A second term contract was awarded in 2021.

For the last six years, Grimms has been overseeing the servicing and maintenance of the propulsion units and transmissions of the SA Navy’s fleet. One of its noticeable achievements for the Navy has been the successful refurbishing of three classic MTU 652 Marine diesel engines for the River class coastal minehunters. It has also refurbished a number of MTU 183 engines, an MTU 538 for one of the Warrior class strike craft, and an MTU 1163 engine.

Hendricks said Grimms is the first local black-owned company in South Africa to overhaul an MTU 1163 engine for the SA Navy. The 6 000 kW MTU 1163 powers the Navy’s four Meko frigates – the dynamometer was bought to test the massive MTU 1163.

Grimms Atlantic Commercial Diesel Services (ACDS) has worked on multiple South African Navy vessels, including the SAS Drakensberg replenishment vessel, SAS Protea hydrographic survey vessel, the mine hunters, strike craft, small craft, tugs, submarines and frigates. It provided Armscor with the spares needed for the refit of the submarine SAS Manthatisi. Some services are executed at shore establishments such as Silvermine, Goedverwacht, and Naval Communication Centre Durban.

The Atlantic Commercial Diesel Services division also offers diesel engine and marine generator sales, installation, maintenance, dyno testing and sea trials, technical assistance, engine refits, project management etc. Grimms ACDS sells and provides engine expertise for major brands including MAN, Volvo, MTU, Caterpillar, Cummins, Perkins, Deutz, Wartsila, Scania, and Yanmar.

Hendricks noted that the SA Navy wants ships in the water and is aiming to refit submarines and frigates. National Treasury earlier this year made R1.4 billion available to partially address the refit backlog, which will cover one frigate and one submarine, which will be completed in December 2024 before sea trials the following year.

After having procured spares for the submarine SAS Manthatisi, Hendricks emphasised that Grimms can procure any submarine spares using a vast international network of manufacturers that supply the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). “Grimms’ strategy ensures a consistent supply of parts that meets the highest OEM standards at a lower cost.”

“We have highly skilled technicians experienced on all marine diesel engines. This wealth of experience in the mechanical field in diverse industry sectors has driven the company’s exponential growth,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks believes it’s important that local companies are given contracts, such as for vessel maintenance, as this creates local jobs, empowers people, and brings back skills to South Africa. “The defence force cannot operate in isolation from the industry,” he said, adding that local companies in the industry merely require a little assistance to reach their full capacity.

The industry also needs more timeous release of funds, as delays can make it difficult to source parts, manage workforce levels, and stick to timelines – complex regulations and prolonged approval processes can sometimes impact efficiency and ultimately harm the end user. Hendricks noted that this is a common issue across many industries and is not exclusive to the South African Navy or the defence sector.

Another challenge is adjusting to changes in budget allocations, which is a notable concern given the chronic underfunding of the SANDF. Furthermore, unexpected cost increases are not always fully accounted for in contracts, and can impose a financial burden on the company – the exchange rate fluctuation is one example, as is inflation.

“Despite these uncertainties, we, like many companies, work hard to deliver high-quality work on schedule. However, these budgetary shifts could potentially impact the wider industry’s stability. Nevertheless, Grimms steadfastly upholds its commitment to delivering high-quality service, employing innovative approaches to navigate through these complexities,” Hendricks stated.

Automotive origins

Although the maritime side is now a big focus, Grimms originally started out repairing vehicle engines, with Hendricks founding the parent company in 1986. In 1990, Grimms opened its first workshop, which now offers a range of services for motor vehicles for the private, commercial, and industrial sectors. In the past, Grimms has done some vehicle work for the South African National Defence Force, providing for example spare parts for Samil military trucks.

The Grimms Auto Services division covers engine installation, maintenance and repairs, spares, breakdown services etc. for public, industrial, commercial and private sectors. Notable projects include being the main contractor for the servicing and maintenance of MyCity buses in Cape Town, and servicing and maintaining Correctional Services and City of Cape Town municipal vehicles.

Grimms services and supplies generators and, with record loadshedding in South Africa, has been doing very well with this side of the business (Grimms Power Gen). Some of its big contracts have included generators for Robben Island, 25 generators for the Western Cape Department of Health, and generators and floodlights for the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sports.

Grimms Group has recently expanded into the pump industry (Grimms Pumps Solutions), and installs, maintains, and repairs pumps for marine, freshwater and sewerage applications, notably for water transfers, collection, and treatment. It has rebuilt and rewound motors for the City of Cape Town’s sewerage pumps, Drakenstein municipality wastewater plant and pump stations, Swartland municipality wastewater plant and pump stations, Theewaterkloof municipality wastewater plant/pump stations, and West coast district municipality freshwater plant and pump stations. Hendricks said it can work on old, obsolete pumps in addition to newer models.

Through its Grimms Spare Parts division, the company supplies parts and consumables for all types of maritime, mining, engine building, and transport equipment. This is accomplished through the Grimms’ spare parts procurement division in Capricorn Park, Cape Town. It can supply original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and alternative spares, and stocks Cummins, Fleetguard, and Peters + Bey parts. Grimms Spare Parts has a National Conventional Arms Control Committee certificate allowing it to trade in controlled and dual use items for ships, boats, submarines, communication, command and control systems and ‘miscellaneous military equipment’. An international network of suppliers is located in 13 countries around the world.

Grimms Group is a Level 1 Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) company and employs 120 people across its various Cape Town premises: the flagship marine division is in Paarden Eiland with another marine division in Simons Town; spares warehouses are in Capricorn while vehicle maintenance is done at Dieprivier and MyCity buses are serviced in Dunoon. The Pump Division is also located at Paarden Eiland and a head office is located in Century City.