As big as a bungalow, as heavy as a Boeing 747 with the noise-level of a constantly roaring motorcycle – compared with a modern mobile telephone, a transformer looks like a technical innovation dating from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution development. But looks can be deceptive. Even if the exterior design of a transformer has changed little over the decordes, a lot of delicacy and technical knowledge are required to repair these monsters. And there is more than enough of this at the ABB Works in Halle, where some 200 engineers, skilled workers – mostly industrial electronic technicians – and chemical laboratory technicians make their comprehensive knowledge, flexibility and technical creativity of transformers available.
Innovative solutions for optimizing the useful life and increasing the capacity of transformers are available here. The plant is a so-called “focused factory” in the internationally active ABB Group, otherwise known as the servicing competence centre for transformers. Halle upgrades and maintains equipment with voltage of up to 800 kV. Every year some 400 fully-tested transformers are sent out for use in one of over 50 countries on all continents in which the location was already successfully active. Halle performs all services ranging from diagnosis, maintenance and repairs of transformers. Technically sophisticated modifications are also possible and range from preventive diagnosis to conversion or upgrading work, as is the rapid and reliable supply of spare parts for all transformers.
And this is where the location’s specialty comes into its own. Its engineers and scientists develop their servicing procedures according to customer requirements and apply the latest research results to their work almost as it becomes available. This is why Halle has since become a contact for all servicing questions and types of transformers, regardless of whom they are manufactured by. In other words, while other transformer manufacturers can only repair and maintain those transformers they have made themselves, ABB in Halle offers a complete service for all transformers, regardless of manufacturer.
Specializing in servicing is in the location’s blood, so to speak, and is continually passed on. Since 1919 the employees have concentrated to a large extent on servicing. Often servicing units develop in this industry only as an add-on to the core business of manufacturing transformers. Except in Halle. With a few exceptions, servicing is its main source of revenue and profit.
One guarantee for successful servicing is the high level of vocational training enjoyed by the employees and the continuity of employment. Many employees in the commercial-technical area also learnt their trades at the ABB plant in Halle. It is not rare for employees to work for ABB there for 30 or even 40 years. The vocational training structure, course content and trade designations – formerly transformer-maker, today mechatronics technician – may have changed over the years, but one thing has remained constant – new recruits acquire a broad range of knowledge with a high level of practical application, so that all servicing employees are not only capable of completing simple projects but also of thinking about what they are doing and of developing part of the solution.
This general vocational training is one reason why ABB in Halle is able to successfully compete in the market. The employees know all the tricks and “wrinkles”, which makes them flexible and capable of creating and implementing solutions. The issue of initial and advanced trades training is therefore very popular. Almost every fourth employee gets foreign language training paid for and individual employees are sent to master tradesmens’ or technicians’ courses. Those wanting to get on get the chance to do so.
Thus, numerous processes considered standard in the industry today originate from ABB employees. Especially in the development of “on-site” solutions, employees in Halle display particular creativity and now ABB is able to offer customers the entire range of services on-site, wherever the transformer is located, regardless of how remote the location. From diagnosis through repairs under difficult conditions to testing and commissioning can be offered everything mobile.
Making the entire repair process mobile
Engineering Solutions, the department specializing in examining transformers, gives transformer users a solid decision-making basis for repair work. The ABB engineers perform scientifically-based detective work on transformers, which helps in the early stages of the diagnosis process to divide resources and capacity effectively and reliably. All necessary investigations and measuring processes are available to customers, such as oil-checks in ABB’s own laboratory by skilled staff.
Crucially, Engineering Solutions can be used both for individual transformers and for entire transformer fleets. Assessing a fleet’s condition makes it possible to prepare an investment and repair plan for each unit depending on the functional significance in the relevant power network and the individual condition of the transformer. Some transformers can only be transported to a limited extent, which is why ABB has a sophisticated technical solution up its sleeve: TrafoSiteRepair™.
This process makes it possible to carry out a wide range of on-site repairs on the active part of the transformer. At the same time, carrying out all types of work, such as changing or repairing coils or cores, can be carried out according to the highest standards. For example, materials used outside the plant are tested according to equally high standards. And employees naturally ensure that critical processes are constantly monitored and that repairs are carried out according to these standards. Their quality is certified on site through high-tension testing. With over 200 successful TrafoSiteRepairs™, ABB leads the market in this field.
Making new transformers in this industry follows routines, while service must always reinvent itself. This ability is also put to the test at the last step in the transformer repair stage – at the testing stage. ABB Halle is the first plant that has developed and uses a mobile high-tension testing facility on the basis of a frequency convertor. This makes possible every type of routine, type and special testing according to international standards that were previously carried out in stationary testing facilities.
In addition, the developers from Halle commissioned the first mobile surge generator in a 40-foot container – to the applause of the trade press.
Service distinguishes itself through innovation which has tradition – and a future. In spite of the worldwide financial crisis, the future for ABB in Halle augurs well because companies benefit from the know-how of experienced specialists.
Matthias Reinhold was born in Hannover in 1971. He studied sales engineering at Braunschweig Technical University, where he specialized in mechanical engineering. He went to work for the ABB Group in 1997 and after performing various functions there, took over management of the ABB Transformer Servicing plant in Halle in June 2007. He is married and has three children.