MRO Magazine

Building the big ones in small-town Ontario

Rockwell Automation makes the Reliance Electric brand of motors in various locations, but for motors with over 1,500 to 2,000 hp, customers have to look to Canada.


June 1, 2004
By Judy Van Rhijn

Rockwell Automation makes the Reliance Electric brand of motors in various locations, but for motors with over 1,500 to 2,000 hp, customers have to look to Canada.

In a facility in Stratford, Ont., that used to manufacture small Westinghouse appliance motors, Rockwell’s Canadian arm is producing customized induction motors on a grand scale. In fact, its Reliance RPM AC inverter duty motor has the greatest power density by frame of any motor in the world.

This motor is widely specified by paper and steel industry users for winders, coilers-recoilers, flying shears, coating lines, laminating lines and web processes. It also is used extensively in extruders, haul-offs and winders in blown film and profile extrusion applications in the plastics industry.

Despite its reputation as a tourist destination, Stratford has a strong industrial base. Industries such as Fram, Dyna-Mig, Novatronics and FAG Bearings Ltd. call Stratford home.

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Rick Camps, the senior product specialist at the Stratford plant, lists the Rockwell operation’s strengths as adherence to specifications, ability to customize and a high standard of customer service.

“Over the years many organizations have gotten rid of employees with specialized knowledge. They might have had a motor expert or a switchgear expert or a transformer expert. Now they rely on the motor manufacturer to walk them through the process and advise them, often well after the motor is delivered,” he says.

“If a customer has any questions during the process, they can talk directly to the person designing or manufacturing the motor. That’s very important.”

Not many manufacturers want to incur the costs involved in making large, custom-made products, so Rockwell’s Stratford operation is almost alone in its market niche. The plant usually builds ones and twos of a design. Twenty is the most number of replicas ever made.

What keeps the operation afloat without the cost advantages of mass production? “The ability to manufacture exactly what the customer wants,” Camps says firmly. “They may hit us with a three-inch specification but we don’t quibble. The customers are confident that they get what they ask for.” Camps recalls one customer who wanted a 3,025-hp motor … “and that’s what we gave them.”

It takes a strong engineering and design team to be this innovative all the time. “We have a number of mechanical and electrical engineers and a drafting support team,” explains Camps. “We use CAD but we’re also going to the next level with Pro E designs for three-dimensional drafting. It’s hard to chew on initially but it helps down the road with modelling products mechanically and physically.”

The team is blessed with seniority. A recent attempt to find someone under age 30 in the plant failed to find anyone much under 40!

A significant feature of the motors produced in Stratford is their square laminated steel frame. Steel is more expensive than cast iron but allows more power for the size of the motor and greater design flexibility. This is particularly important where the customer has limited space or wishes to drop the motor on to an existing base.

“A lot of customers want to increase horsepower but not muck around with the mounting,” says Camp. “If the foundation costs $50,000 to modify and the motor costs $125,000 to supply, it’s a significant cost.”

The plant brings in the individual steel pieces for the frame but does all the welding and most of the machining in-house so it can control the strength. “We quote the lowest vibration levels in the industry because of the rigidity of the frame,” says Camps.

Other special techniques adopted by the plant are the use of manual winding for greater control in all but the most straightforward applications, and the Enduraseal insulation system for protecting the motor. The motor core is uniformly cured with epoxy resin on a rotisserie that connects to an giant oven, before rigorous water testing is done.

This level of protection allows motors to be washed down as they are running. Camps laughs that one customer turns on his sprinkler system every six months to wash its motor. “We don’t recommend it, but he’s been doing it for years with no ill effect,” he says. “We’re the only manufacturer that does this on 100% of production.”

All this attention to detail takes time. A 20-week manufacturing cycle is standard at the plant. It allows time for the manufacturing team to order parts and for the customer to ask for alterations. The average number of change notices per motor is around 15 to 20 because buyers often don’t have their minds completely set when they order.

The plant can produce a motor faster if necessary, although the lack of inventory does pose a problem. “If it’s on a rush basis, we tend to move heaven and earth to make it happen,” Camps confirms.

He laughs as he recalls one client who wanted a 7,000-hp motor in a hurry and asked if they had one on the shelf. “Considering that it would weigh 35,000 pounds, I said I’d like to see the shelf it sits on!”

Freelance writer Judy van Rhijn is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.