Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand), Sustainability, Suppliers and Manufacturers, Heavy Haul, Rolling Stock, Rail Express features

History prepares Molycop for the future

Molycop is striving to continue supporting the heavy haul rail sector in Australia.

Molycop has a history supporting the Australian railway sector and traces its heavy haul support back to the 1980s. It began supporting the iron ore industry in the mining region of the Pilbara with an aim towards improving the payloads that can be carried.

Molycop’s Australian operations began in 1917 when the Commonwealth Steel Company established a facility at its Waratah site in Newcastle, NSW. Through the 1920s and 1930s Commonwealth Steel developed some of the first grinding balls and then the first heat-treated grinding balls to improve wear performance.

Molycop now comprises 15 major operational sites in Africa, Australia, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Spain and USA supported by local sales, service and distribution presence .

Rail Express spoke with sales manager Ian Forbes to better understand the history of the company and how that has delivered Molycop to where it is today and its support for the heavy haul rail sector in Australia.

“When we first started with a focus on heavy haul, it was about pushing the nominal axle load from 25 tonnes through to 35 and now up to 42 tonnes,” Forbes said.

“Australia has the heaviest haulage in the world, and I think a lot of that was off the work we did developing these wheels in conjunction with the industry.”

Forbes said that the development occurred in two phases. It started with improving the plate design to maximise the efficiency and the strength of the wheel. 

Once Molycop had improved this design they then released the design to the broader industry.

Collaboration has been one of the keys to success for Molycop. IMAGE: Molycop

Forbes explained that as Molycop had worked closely with industry to develop these improved wheels, it wanted to give it back to the sector.

“The second phase of the development was improving the materials we were using,” he said.

“We began pushing what we were doing to make our wheels far exceed the specs that were required by the Association of American Railways.

“By doing this it improved interoperability and safety for users.”

Molycop wanted to ensure that the wheels could spend longer in the field working before needing to be repaired or replaced. This included its improved materials that were longer lasting.

Flash forward 30 years and Molycop is continuing this level of development and improvement of its wheels.

Forbes believes the axle weights have topped out now and to go higher will require infrastructure improvements. Molycop has now turned its attention to the wheels that will support the next generation of locomotives, passenger cars and freight rollingstock.

“We have been working closely with a lot of North American locomotive builders as they develop the next generation battery electric locomotives,” he said. 

“These battery electric locomotives will be far heavier than the locomotives we have currently, particularly the first couple of generations.

“We have done a lot of work around plate design once again to improve the actual capabilities of the wheel.”

The company is once again working to exceed the Association of American Railways standards for locomotive wheels. Forbes expects most of these locomotives to work in the iron ore space initially.

“We have done multiple streams of modelling for these customers to better understand how these locomotives will behave on these lines,” he said.

“We can develop different braking scenarios and extrapolate that to find potential weak points to then ensure we reach an acceptable outcome.”

Collaboration

Molycop has been operating for more than 100 years and owes this to the collaboration it has maintained throughout its existence. The organisation has always collaborated with university and institutes, but Forbes believe the success lies in its association with other collaborators.

“We have always been industry led,” he said. “We help them with challenges Instead of telling industry what it needs, we listen to what is required and design a product to meet these needs.

“We always seek to understand the problem first and then design the solution for that specific problem.”

The organisation is focussed on improving its sustainability initiatives. IMAGE: Molycop

For research and development (R&D) Molycop will work closely with universities and then also there is an internal team of technical experts.

“We are working diligently on new technology, chemistry and the way in which we actually manufacture the wheels,” he said.

“We are improving how we are hot forging the wheels to ensure they last longer.

“We have also been improving our machining processes and we have passed European standards with flying colours.”

Forbes said that he believes Molycop is not just in the business of supplying wheels but is also about supplying its expertise.

“This is something that will never change for us as an organisation,” he said.

“A customer will always need someone who knows what they are doing and that is what we are. 

“The future for us is about continuing
to develop the correct technical capabilities to meet the ever-increasing needs of
the industry.”

Sustainability

Molycop is continuing to develop standards for its manufacturing of wheels with a focus on sustainable practices.

The company is currently reporting and tracking its Greenhouse gas (GHG) Emissions annually for Scope 1,2 and 3. 

Recently, Molycop formally lodged the Science Based Targets (SBTi) commitment letter and was accepted by the SBTi in February 2024, establishing its intent to set a science-based targets.

Molycop focus is currently on three streams:

  • reduction of gas usage through efficiency and electrification where practical;
  • procurement strategies aligned to the reduction in Scope 3 emissions; and
  • leveraging supply chain excellence for freight efficiency and utilisation of assets across the Molycop value chain.

“With a focused and measured approach to a lower carbon operating model, we are well placed to support our customers on the journey to a more sustainable future,” Forbes said. 

“With a history of more than 106 years, our products have been at the forefront of many transitions in the rail and manufacturing industries. 

“Supporting our customers and leading our own transition across the century, the challenge has been accepted on this new evolution and we have the right team in place to make it happen.”