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The big mountain gearbox repair


SEW-EURODRIVE has repaired and serviced a huge 3,800kg Lohmann & Stolterfoht planetary gearbox, driving the only mountain gondola in the UK, high up in the Nevis Mountain Range in Scotland.

Located on the north face of Aonach Mor, the 8th highest mountain in Britain, the Nevis Mountain Gondola transports visitors from the base station, near Fort William, to the top gondola station far above at a height of 650 metres above sea level.

The spectacular journey, that takes approximately 15 minutes, affords visitors breathtaking panoramic views of Ben Nevis, the Great Glen and the surrounding Scottish Highlands. The mountain gondola was originally constructed for skiers but is now popular with tourists all year round, including walkers, mountain bikers and those who simply want to take in the scenery.

The system carries 75, six seater, closed-cabin gondolas running on a continuous steel cable, some 4.6km in length, and weighing 40,000kg. This is supported between 18 pylons, 2 masts, and 2 drive station structures each anchored in 200 tonnes of concrete.

Each gondola weighs 300kg and has a maximum passenger weight of 480kg. When fully loaded the combined weight of the gondolas in total is 58,500kg. Combined with the steel cable the maximum weight on the drive system at peak capacity is a colossal 98,500kg! During busy times, such as the Mountain Bike World Cup, up to 1,500 gondolas are launched every day.

As part of routine maintenance, SEW-EURODRIVE was chosen to inspect, service and carry out any necessary repairs to the huge Lohman & Stolterfoht planetary gearbox that drives the gondolas at a speed of 3.2 metres per second.

According to Chris MacPherson, engineering director of the Nevis Range Mountain Experience, SEW-EURODRIVE was chosen, because of the company’s ability to carry out a high-quality service and repair of the large gearbox, within the allotted time frame, and while meeting all of the strict safety requirements.

An SEW-EURODRIVE engineer supervised the removal of the 3,800kg gearbox and the careful loading of it onto the back of a large wagon with a five ton Hiab crane. The process was made difficult because of the tricky mountainside location of the Nevis Mountain Gondola, but once securely loaded it was then transported to SEW-EURODRIVE’s fully equipped gearbox service and repair facility in Normanton.

On arrival the gearbox was disassembled and inspected by SEW-EURODRIVE’s experienced engineers. A detailed, 49-page digital report was produced for the customer on the condition of the unit and it’s component parts. This included oil analysis, digital photography and information on components that would require monitoring during operation for scheduled future repairs.

It was found that the 20-year-old gearbox was generally in good condition due to the excellent maintenance regime managed by the engineering team at the Nevis Mountain Experience. After cleaning all the components, and removing small amounts of corrosion, new bearings, seals and O-rings were fitted during the reassembly of the unit.

After testing the repaired unit was returned to the mountain gondola and an SEW-EURODRIVE engineer supervised the re-installation and subsequent testing. The whole process was completed within just three weeks and the gearbox has been operating perfectly ever since.

Speaking of the project Chris MacPherson said: ‘SEW-EURODRIVE had carried out maintenance for us on some smaller items in the past. Due to the quality of repair, the communication and overall service, I was extremely confidant in their ability to carry out the main gearbox servicing. The communication before, during and after the work was second to none and I would highly recommend them.’