Bell Equipment – Invented in Empangeni, Made in Africa, Exported to the world
Not that long ago, Irvine Bell used the engine from a Willys Jeep to power a water boring machine in Empangeni. This ingenuity, creativity & resourcefulness sprouted a world-renowned company & gave us locals something “homegrown” to feel proud of. Bell Equipment is a world leader in the manufacture of purpose-built mobile machinery, invented and made in Africa.
1958 : Irvine Bell, along with his brother & brother-in-law expands I A Bell and Company. A new workshop is built to provide general engineering services from his small holding. This facilitates the manufacture of Irvine’s early inventions which include an overhead transfer crane for farmers in the area & a self-loading sugar cane trailer.
1960’s: Farmers in Empangeni use adapted farm tractors to load sugar cane. These contraptions are cumbersome, clumsy & slow. Irvine Bell develops a 3 wheeled loader. The loader is patented & named the greatly manoeuvrable self-propelled machine. It is self-propelled, & leverages early hydrostatic technology, along with hydraulic motors from a grader. The Bell Tri-Wheeler is easy to operate, turns on its own axis, & allows for independent control of each drive wheel. Manufacture of this Cane Loader is licensed to a cane transport company based in Johannesburg.
1970’s: Bell expands to larger premises in Empangeni, & provides capacity to design & build specialist equipment like earthmoving machines that are light-weight & able to operate in the soft sand of the port in Richards Bay. Sons, Peter & Gary, join the family business & patent a cutting attachment that enables the Tri-Wheeler to further merchandise the harvesting of sugar cane. The focus shifts to manufacturing.
1975 : The previously outsourced manufacturing licence expires, & Peter Bell improves the design of the machine. The Tri-Wheeler comes home. Bell begins producing complete machines.
The design of the Tri-Wheeler proves versatile, & the technology is leveraged to serve a wider range of applications. Adding a forklift mast or a log grab produces machines that are snapped up by the brick & log industries respectively. The Bell Rigid Tractor, purpose-built & with matching trailers replaces adapted farm tractors & become a common sight on the roads. They haul cane & timber. This expands into earth moving equipment & Peter Bell sees further opportunity for the machine in the Front End Loader design.
The ‘Built-for-Africa’ mid-size Wheeled Loader range that came from this marriage of design become popular. The Company opens its own outlets to provide factory direct support & the Bell Customer Service Centre support network begins in Johannesburg. This quickly grows to cover all of South Africa & into neighbouring countries.
1984 : The factory in Richards Bay is built. The Tri-Wheel Loader range is exported abroad, & demand rises. Machines are manufactured in kits, assembled in Mauritius which supplies Cane Loaders both locally & into Africa. An assembly facility in New Zealand is started to supply loaders to the Australasian forest industry. After initial partnering with a manufacturer in the USA to build loggers, Bell Equipment establishes itself independently to distribute products exported from the plant in Richards Bay.
Imported articulated dump trucks from Europe become popular in the earth moving industry. Bell improves on the design & come up with their own machines, tailored for African conditions.
1985 : Bell Equipment launches its 25 ton Articulated Dump Truck. The range quickly expands due to the success of this machine, & lighter, faster models are developed & extended.
1989 : The Richards Bay plant capacity has doubled, the 40 ton capacity Articulated Dump Truck is launched and the Company employs a team of 1 650 people worldwide.
1999 : A strategic partnership is formed with the John Deere Company
Now: The range has expanded again with Bell’s 50 ton capacity B50D, a mining focused machine. Bell Equipment is a world-class provider of innovative equipment & with its partners it provides a wide range of quality machines to the construction, forestry, mining and agriculture industries.
When Peter & Gary Bell, like many boys, built a go-kart from whatever they could find during the school holidays one year, it was able to pull a small tip trailer. They added a dozer blade to the front to spread gravel & used this small rig to repair dirt roads on the smallholding where they lived & where their father worked, I wonder what they were thinking? I am sure they had no idea where their go-kart would lead & how much the family flair for invention would impact the lives of so many.
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Photographs & information with kind permission from Mr Bell. All rights reserved. Published greatwhitetribe.com 21/10/2015. Feel free to link to this article.