25 Jul 2024


Fairbanks Morse buys motor control pioneer Ward Leonard

Ward Leonard’s portfolio includes AC motor drives in ratings up to 6,000hp (4,476kW)

The US engine-maker Fairbanks Morse has acquired one of the oldest names in the electric motor industry, Ward Leonard, for an undisclosed sum. This acquisition will expand the power and propulsion equipment and services that Fairbanks Morse offers to its customers, which include the US Navy, US Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Ward Leonard can trace its history back to 1891, when its founder, an American electrical engineer named Harry Ward Leonard, invented and patented a motor speed control technology that still bears his name. The Ward Leonard system provided smooth speed control, instantaneous reversing, and saved energy when starting, reversing and stopping motors. It was estimated that cost of producing steel could be cut by 15% by replacing steam engines by Ward Leonard motor systems.

After graduating from MIT in 1883, Harry Ward Leonard worked for Thomas Edison (along with Nicola Tesla), before setting up his own electric contracting business in 1891. He manufactured motor controls, heating devices and rheostats, and was awarded more than 100 patents for technologies as varied as elevator controls, train lighting, circuit-breakers and motor cars. He died in 1915.

The Ward Leonard company went on to operate in areas including lighting controls, electrical resistors and voltage regulators, as well as motor and industrial controls. In recent years, the company has focussed on motors, generators and controls for naval, commercial marine, energy and industrial applications. Its portfolio includes medium- and high-voltage induction and synchronous motors in ratings up to 100,000hp (74.6MW). In 2005, Ward Leonard acquired the UK motor manufacturer, Mawdsley’s, which specialised in motors up to 1,500hp (1.1MW) for military and heavy-duty applications.

Ward Leonard currently employs around 150 people at its Connecticut headquarters. It also has locations in Texas and Louisiana that Fairbanks Morse is not acquiring. Fairbanks Morse plans to keep the Ward Leonard name.

“The acquisition of Ward Leonard expands the Fairbanks Morse product portfolio into complementary technologies, positioning us to serve as a power systems integrator to the US Navy and US Coast Guard,” says Fairbanks Morse’s CEO, George Whittier. “Like Fairbanks Morse, Ward Leonard has an installed base across virtually every ship class, and we expect to augment its aftermarket parts and services offerings using Fairbanks Morse’s extensive shop and field service capabilities.”

Ward Leonard’s owner and CEO, Jon Carter, says that the acquisition “will provide additional support for our customers by increasing their access to OEM products and support through Fairbanks Morse’s waterfront field service presence.”

Fairbanks Morse, owned by Arcline Investment Management, manufactures and services heavy-duty, medium-speed reciprocating engines under the Fairbanks Morse and Alco brand names, mainly for marine and power generation applications. It has been manufacturing engines for more than 125 years and is the main supplier of diesel engines to the US Navy and Coast Guard, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

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