Lufkin Industries, part of GE Oil & Gas, is a leading provider of gear products and gearing technologies custom engineered and designed to fit mechanical drive applications anywhere in the world, supported by an extensive and unparalleled service network. David Soyka reports on how its Power Transmission division helps a range of industries gear up.
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Any company headquartered in Houston, Texas is bound to have something to do with the oil and gas industry. The Power Transmission division of Lufkin Industries, which became part of GE Oil & Gas two years ago, certainly does. But its customers extend to steel mills, sugar mills, mining, chemical, rubber and plastics, marine, hydro-power and other power generation and energy industries.
“We provide high performance, custom engineered gearboxes designed to perform under extreme operating conditions to a variety of industries around the world,” points out Donald Smith, general manager of Lufkin’s Power Transmission division. “We also service both our own products and those of other manufacturers.”
“For 75 years Lufkin has manufactured high and low speed parallel shaft industrial gearboxes,” Smith explains. “Our precision-made gearboxes weigh anywhere from 300 to 120,000 lbs (136 to 54,431 kg), with power ratings ranging from 20 to 100,000 hp (74 MW).”
Smith notes that the acquisition by GE Oil & Gas has helped Lufkin further extend its global reach and better service its customers. “Our relationship with GE Oil & Gas has provided us access to GE’s technology and and engineering resources to improve the efficiency and performance of our products as we look for ways to meet our customers growing demands.” The acquisition of Allen Gears, a provider of high speed high power gearing for industrial and marine applications, specializing in epicyclic gears, in January 2014 complements Lufkin’s core industrial applications, shows how important the gear business is for GE and added exciting new options and capabilities to service specialized gearing applications.
“Allen Gears makes epicyclic gears, which are compact, lightweight and highly efficient. Their epicyclic solutions cover power ranges between 650 hp (0.5 MW) to 50,000 hp (37 MW), transmitted torques up to 0.62X109 ozf. in (4.35 MN.m) and operating at speeds from as low as 19 rpm up to input shaft speeds of 40,000 rpm. This kind of gearing is ideal for high ratio applications such as gas and hydro turbines where you have a small footprint and you need to move efficiently from high speeds to low speeds.”
Smith points out that while all Lufkin gearing solutions have a structured component to them, designs are also tailored to specific customer requirements. “About 50 percent of what we do is consistent from application to application, while the other 50 percent is completely new and customized designs. Lufkin Industries also operates a foundry, so that makes it easy and cost-effective for us to cast new parts when we need to.”
Lufkin’s Power Transmission business employees approximately1,000 people around the world. Manufacturing facilities include plants in Lufkin (the town that gave the company its name), Fougerolles, France, Wellsville, New York, and Pershore, United Kingdom (Allen Gears). The company markets using a direct sales force as well as a global network of distributors and sales representatives.
“We’re investing in upgrading our manufacturing tools–we added new hobbing and grinding equipment in our Lufkin facility. And we recently expanded our test stand capabilities in France, and added 118,400ft2 (11,000m2) of manufacturing space,” Smith says. “To make state-of-the-art products you need state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies and processes.”
Geared to Customer Needs
Smith emphasizes the importance Lufkin places on staying close to the customer. “We focus on things like operational excellence and flawless execution, but what customers value most about us is having direct access to our team, our engineering experts and our field personnel,” he says.
He adds, “When customers need assistance with a gearbox, it’s usually urgent. Downtime is lost money. Our customers appreciate that we not only have the expertise to solve their problem, but that we can also be where they need us thanks to our worldwide network of experienced technicians and service centers.”
“Lufkin has the capabilities to service other manufacturers’ gears” Smith says. “In fact, it’s a testament to the quality of service we provide how often we are called upon to provide maintenance or repair systems for gears from other manufacturers.”
Over the last five years, the gearing business has seen an average 5 percent annual growth rate. “I think that’s going to continue to be the trend for the next four to five years as well. As a global company that services OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and end users in a variety of markets, we have the advantage that when a particular local economy or industry segment is in a slow cycle, other markets and economies are experiencing an upswing. It all balances out. Even if new system purchases are slow, gears are like any mechanical device, particularly those in high stress applications – they need to be maintained and repaired, and that’s at least 50 percent of our business.”
Smith says there are three factors that distinguish Lufkin in the marketplace. “We have the proven capabilities to meet a range of power transmission needs. We have the engineering expertise to design, test and deliver world class gearing solutions to meet any requirement. And we have an extensive service network of highly trained and experienced technicians to respond to the gear repair and service needs of our customers.”
He adds, “I believe that the key to our business is the expertise of our people and the hundreds of thousands of successful operating hours of our equipment, along with the proven reliability. Lufkin is intent on providing our power transmission customers with the superior products and services they can rely on to deliver the power and performance they need in any situation.”