Lamifil - Down to the wire

Lamifil has been working with railway contractors to support their overhead wiring needs for nearly nine decades. Urban Transport Agenda talks to the company's sales director, Ines Clenjans, about how the company works side by side with customers in the laboratory to enhance the strength of its alloys and eliminate the possibility of breakages.

Lamifil has been in the metals business for over 85 years. The company has converted its wealth of expertise in copper, aluminium, and aluminium and copper alloys, into a remarkable ability to keep customers returning for business again and again.

"Every year, we execute a customer satisfaction survey that has consistently shown that we are leading in the marketplace in terms of serviceability and flexibility," says Ines Clenjans, the company's sales director.

Participatory research

Key to the preservation of these relationships has been Lamifil's enthusiasm in working directly with its customers in the testing and formulation of its alloys.

"In our ISO 17025-accredited laboratory, we're conducting joint product testing with our customers and working on the problems that they're experiencing," says Clenjans. Almost 6% of Lamifil's yearly budget is funnelled into research and development. One area of research has been an investigation of how the company might help its customers reduce the problem of long-term creep resistance in copper wiring, including an exploration of the impact of using copper-magnesium alloy (CuMg) as a substitute. "We are one of the few manufacturers that produce the product in-house. This process means that we can guarantee the quality and demonstrate it to our customers."

In fact, Lamifil's innovations in CuMg wiring has led to a whole host of innovations in recent years. The diameter of catenary wires, for example, may now be reduced, allowing savings to be made in the use of raw materials in the production process. Project overheads may also be cut in the construction of substations. "For CuMg, we have improved the electrical and mechanical properties. As an example, our CuMg railway wire offers 16% better electrical characteristics compared with EN50149 rail standards. This reduces the investment in substations with 15%." Clenjans adds.

Original ownership

Five years ago, copper cabling was rapidly disappearing from the British railway network. Between 2010 and 2011, over 995 such thefts were reported, resulting in approximately 1,000 minutes of delays a day. Appreciating the scale of the problem, the government passed legislation that would require all metal dealers to be fully licensed and compel sellers to retain suitable identification documentation. Incidents of theft have since dropped precipitously.

The episode highlighted that the problem of traceability can afflict even the copper and aluminium wiring segments. Yet, for a manufacturer like Lamifil, heavy investment in research and development has produced solutions that allow their products to not only be sourced back to their original owners, but also tailored to identify their original intended application by imprinting unique production codes or grooves into the wire.

"We can add an additional level of traceability by taking and retaining samples during production," says Clenjans. "If there's a problem, we can therefore trace it back to the raw material, even if it's occurred ten years later." An extra alloy may also be added to the wire in production as an anti-theft measure to pollute the value of the copper if melted.

Company expansion

It is this commitment to sourcing new efficiencies in its cabling products that has led to Lamifil rolling out 100,000km of catenary wires across 30 countries. Although the Belgian manufacturer primarily caters to the European market, it is beginning to attract attention in Asia, having recently concluded a contract with an Indian company.

"Their representatives came to witness all of the tests on the wire that we do to make sure that they receive the quality that we promise them," says Clenjans. "The result of that was that they were so impressed with our factory and the way we work that we recently signed a second deal in India. It shows that we don't just talk about quality, but we can really show it. And our customers believe in it."

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