View from the top: Centa Transmissions

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

What gives Centa Transmissions its advantage in the mechanical power transmission market? Paul Fanning asks managing director Bob Arnott.

Describing Centa Transmissions, its managing director Bob Arnott describes it as "a good, solid engineering company". On closer examination, however, this sounds like a rather modest description of what is a leading mechanical power transmission company.

A brief look at the markets in which Centa operates gives a clear idea of the level of expertise and experience the company has. Says Arnott: "We have something like 800 customers, who are as diverse as people building boats to manufacturers of excavators, forklift trucks, military vehicles, robotics, machine tools and satellite drives. Joining one machine to another via a mechanical transmission is a very widespread application."

The company's levels of specialist expertise and wide market base are the key reasons for this, which he says, are because Centa is highly competent in its specialist area and able to survive. The company's technical expertise has an additional benefit in so far as it means that it is often the first point of call for many projects and has a good reputation for what it does.

The fact that Centa is well known for its areas of competence has been significant in ensuring that they have also been at the forefront of one of the major growth areas of recent years, the renewable energy sector. While he bemoans the fact that more of the money being spent on renewables isn't being spent on growing the UK's manufacturing base for this sector, Arnott says: "We're not put off by large, industrial projects. We've got the experience to design and manufacture unusual applications."

Michael Sykes, Centa's Gears Division Manager, is clearly intimately involved with Centa's work in the renewable energy sector and feels that the company's willingness to get involved with innovative projects at an early stage has reaped dividends. He says: "We like to get involved at the design stage, which is always interesting because we are able to offer all of our technical expertise, helping our customers through this period and thus ensuring that they need not look elsewhere for those skills." This approach has proved to be the case with Marine Current Turbines, whose tidal turbine has been operating in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Says Sykes: "They've had that machine in there since 2008 and they've been producing electricity for the grid ever since. We provided the couplings for their original prototypes, with zero defect and no problems and we've helped them extensively with their prototyping and validation ever since. MCT is now planning to expand an energy installation off the west coast of Scotland."

Centa is also heavily involved in the area of wind turbines. Summing up the challenges this market poses, Bob Arnott puts it succinctly, saying: "It's all about reliability. If you've followed the experience of wind turbines, there has been some terrible trouble with their reliability, so a lot of concentration has been on gearbox development."

In this market again, he believes that Centa's experience in other sectors has held it in good stead. He explains: "With wind turbines, all the machinery is on a very, very fragile cell base. So the movement within the gear machinery is quite high when compared to other applications. From our point of view we're used to foundations being flexible because we do coupling units for things like aluminium ferries, which also have 'flexible' foundations. So when we're choosing a coupling for a wind turbine, we know exactly which coupling unit to go for because we've seen it before and have the product base to cope with it."

Summing up Centa, Arnott says: "Our customers aren't stupid; ultimately they come to us because we know what we're doing."


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