Western Cape Business News

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ENGINEERING: Boiler Making Roots Go Back To 1870


Recent Western Cape Business News

ALTHOUGH John Thompson is this year celebrating its 75 years as a South African operation it actually has more than 125 years of history in the boiler industry. The roots of John Thompson go back farther to 1824.

In that year William Thompson set up a business near Bilston in the north of England, to build iron boats.

In 1870 this business moved to Wolverhampton and five years later branched out into the manufacture of Lancashire boilers.

From these early beginnings the company’s product development progressed into economic-type boilers, into watertube boilers and from there into steam generators for nuclear power stations. Expansion also included other fields of engineering.

John Thompson (Wolverhampton) first came to South Africa in 1935 and through an agency agreement soon established a useful order book.

Recognising the market potential the UK parent established John Thompson (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd in 1937.

The company operated as a sales and contracting organisation, purchasing equipment from Wolverhampton as well as local sources, and subcontracting the erection work.

The next development came in 1970 when Clarke Chapman, based on Tyneside, merged with John Thompson and created the Thompson-Cochran Boiler Division.

In 1946 the parent company took full control of the South African operation, established its own offices and undertook its own installation and erection work for its watertube and firetube shell boilers.

The business continued to flourish and in 1954, in a merger with local company Albert de Jong (Pty) Ltd, the first John Thompson boiler was manufactured at its plant in Bellville.

Today this is one of the largest heavy engineering facilities in South Africa, focusing on the world-competitive design, manufacture, construction and maintenance of industrial boilers and their combustion equipment.

In 1960 John Thompson Africa (Pty) Ltd was established under the control of the UK parent. With the acquisition of Cochran Boilers, another long-established business, in 1969 the John Thompson-Cochran Group became Europe’s leading manufacturer of shell boilers. It also started a new era of cooperation with South Africa.

The mergers continued: Clarke Chapman and Reyrolle Parsons formed Northern Engineering Ltd (NEI) in 1977 and 12 years later NEI merged with Rolls-Royce to create the Rolls-Royce Industrial Power Group, which included John Thompson Africa and International Combustion Africa Ltd (ICAL).

In 1986 John Thompson Africa became the first company in Africa to be granted ASME certificates and code stamps for Power Boilers, Pressure Vessels and Pressure Piping and in 1992, their quality management system was approved in accordance with ISO 9001.

In 1993 ICAL was incorporated into John Thompson Africa who continued to develop its international reputation as a world leader in boiler technology and manufacture involving fossil and fibrous fuels.

With the acquisition of NEI Africa Ltd by Alstom South Africa in 2001, John Thompson Africa became a business division of Alstom Power with a new name - John Thompson Boilers.

In 2002 Alstom restructured its operations in South Africa and John Thompson Boilers became a division of Alstom SA (Pty) Ltd.

In 2004 Alstom South Africa acquired 90% of its shares from Alstom Plc and became a South African owned company with a 50% BEE ownership.

Then, last year, Alstom SA rebranded itself with a new name and corporate identity as ACTOM, with John Thompson as one of its main components.

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