June 17, 2008

From Local Shop to International Service Provider

By Nailen, Richard L

Expanding reach brings company full circle, from motors, to generators, and back to motors again FARMINGTON, N.M.-When Ben Heikkinen sold his Electrical Machinery & Repair business in Beaumont, Tex., to Reliance Electric in 1979, he planned on private life back in the Rocky Mountain West.

But an acquaintance who was also looking to retire, Wayne England, buttonholed Ben in Colorado and persuaded him to buy the England Electric eight-man shop here in Farmington. (A second purchase, to be "just a hobby" at first, was a 1,000-acre ranch near Durango, Colo.)

The eight employees have now grown to 200, while the firm itself occupies three separate facilities in Farmington (population 43,000), the largest one four times the original size of England Electric.

Eventually, in 2002, Ben sold what had become Industrial Repair Services, Inc., to the Wood Group, an international energy services firm headquartered in Scotland and operating in 46 countries.

Ben and his son Paul-who started with the company as a janitor's assistant before getting his Business Administration degree-led the management team until 2004, when a new president took over from Ben (who is no longer active in the business). Paul stayed on and today is chief technical officer and vice president of sales and marketing.

"They were interested in acquiring us," explained Paul, "because one of their components was involved in gas turbine servicing. They realized that coupled to the turbine shaft there was usually a generator, and outsiders or sometimes competitors would be servicing those. So they went looking for a generator company-came to us, and made an offer." Now known as Wood Group Generator Services (WGGS), Inc., the firm operates as an autonomous subsidiary.

Inside the "rotor bay" at Wood Group Generator Services in Farmington, N.M. The balance bunker is at left. Below right, vice president Paul Heikkinen with sample coils in the coil division showroom.

Mechanical beginnings

Long a vocal advocate of mechanical work in the service center, Ben had made his first priority the creation of a major machine shop, beginning with an area of 7,000 square feet, expanded to 13,200 in 1982. The second capability added here was formed coil manufacture. Said Paul: "He wanted the operation to be self- sufficient. He said, 'Let's invest in ourselves instead of paying money to somebody else.'"

Rewinding a turbine generator rotor in one of the WGGS clean rooms.

A more recent addition to machine shop capability is a 9 x 10 x 25 foot gasfired stress relieving oven for work pieces up to 50 tons, used for such items as dragline shafts (as much as 36 tons) and large motor shaft-spider assemblies. Other shop capabilities include heavy fabrication using all types of welding, with a positioner holding up to 60,000 pounds.

Damaged shaft journals are repaired in-house by welding, metal spray, or electroplating. Babbitt bearings are relined using both static pour and spincast (up to 14 inch diameter) methods. A separate CNC machine tool facility produces small precision parts for inshop repair work and for outside customers. A recent example: acid-spray nozzles for an Arizona copper smelter.

Setting up a fixture for in-place machining of a damaged bearing journal on a turbine generator rotor shaft.

Today, Paul Heikkinen added, "We've come full circle in our evolution. When we started, it was strictly motors. Gradually we went from 1,000 horsepower being a large motor to 1,000 horsepower as a small motor. The generator business went from local, regional, to national and international-that was our primary focus for a time.

"Now, we're at a point where that business is extremely cyclical. Most of the work comes during power plant scheduled outage periods in spring and fall, maybe two months at a time. Otherwise the only generator work comes from an occasional forced outage. To smooth out that cycle, we've needed to get back to motors. So, last year we made major investments to present ourselves as a premier motor repair facility."

Large machines

One of those investments was a 14-foot VPI tank, 14 feet deep, capable of deep vacuum at 0.5 Torr. The other was an expanded motor test capability, up to 2,000 kVA at 13,800 volts.

Largest motor worked on here has been a 10,000 hp 6,600 volt induction machine. Largest generator, expected last month, was to be a 50 megawatt 2 pole 18.8 k V unit. Asked if all incoming apparatus condition was recorded in photos, Heikkinen replied, "Yes, and we're thankful for digital cameras!"

Far from rail, water, or interstate highway transportation, Farmington may seem an unlikely location for an operation like this. "That wasn't so much true in the beginning," Heikkinen said. "There was a lot of heavy industry around here. Besides coal, oil, and gas, the uranium mines were going great then. And we started making connections with utilities, out to the East and West coasts. The power plants aren't as thick in the Rocky Mountain states, but now we're looking more closely at that. Altogether, our business grew 40% last year. We're doing a lot of root cause failure analysis."

The WGGS customer base is broad-about 25% in the Western U.S.; 25%-30% in the Northeast; 15% in the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Significant business comes from elsewhere in the Americas (recent examples: rewind of a 113 mVA turbo rotor for a utility in Uruguay, and rebuild of a 143 mVA rotor from the Dominican Republic).

The stress relieving oven outside the WGGS machine shop.

Coal mining is the major industry with the longest history in the surrounding San Juan Basin. In 1905, a railroad branch line from Colorado reached Farmington, with the expectation of extension to carry coal to copper smelters further south and west. That never materialized. The line survived on other traffic until the 1950's brought an oil-and-gas boom with rail shipments of oil field and pipeline equipment. After a peak in 1955, that business went to trucks, and the branch was abandoned in 1969.

Oil and natural gas

Today, the Basin is one of the country's most prolific natural gas producers. And with today's skyrocketing petroleum prices, the oil business is booming again. In 1963, the five-unit 2,040 megawatt Four Corners Power Plant, 25 miles west of Farmington, began burning Basin coal. Surface mining expanded, and the 1988 opening of the nearby Fruitland coal seam gave that a big boost. Fossil fuels today make up the region's industrial base.

Three-fourths of the WGGS business is with electric utilities. Under Heikkinen are three full-time regional sales reps. One, based here, handles the Midwest and Gulf Coast areas; one in Pittsburgh covers the Northeast; one in California the West Coast. Added Heikkinen: "The umbrella Wood Group organization also has maybe 24 worldwide agents we can work through."

The newest service area at the headquarters WGGS plant in Farmington is the "main shop"-the high-bay 80 x 200 ft. area erected in 2003 that's also called the "rotor bay." Its three main components are the formed coil winding area and VPI treatment facility; electrical test board; and the "balance bunker." Eighty feet long and ten feet below the shop floor, the $5 million bunker contains high-speed balancing and overspeed test equipment for large turbogenerator rotors up to 40 feet long, weighing up to 50,000 lbs. at 3,600 RPM, or 100,000 at 1,800. The 2,000 hp d-c motor driver can safely spin a 3,600 RPM rotor up to the 10% overspeed level. Including dynamic balance, overspeed, and electrical checks, a complete run can take at least 24 hours.

The bunker ceiling consists of three 70-ton reinforced concrete sections that can be slid endwise to allow positioning of rotors in the pit. Has there ever been a catastrophic rotor failure here during overspeed? "No," replied Heikkinen. "But the ceiling design is a newer version that keys the sections in place. We know of one facility where a rotor explosion threw a retaining ring up against the ceiling hard enough to lift it."

Paul Heikkinen is dwarfed by the company's new bake oven.

The organizational structure of Wood Group Generator Services.

Also in this bay, with 60-ton crane capacity at 24'/2 feet under the hook, are two plastic enclosed "clean rooms" for rewinding of turbo rotors, in which the edge-wound strap copper field coils are normally reconditioned, reinsulated, and reinstalled. Thermal cycling (especially in peaking-plant use of gas turbine generator sets) and centrifugal force result in eventual loosening of rotor windings. Fretting or "copper dusting" of coils is a common problem. Any new coils needed are made here on an edge-bending machine called the "merry-go-round."

Undertaken to serve the local firm's repair needs, the formed stator coil business has now become a major WGGS division supplying other independents as well as apparatus manufacturers (the main source for three of them).

Beyond regional

"When we looked at our sales in the late 1980's," said Heikkinen, "we could see it was time to stop being just a regional business and look at ourselves going national. What could we bring to the market? So we said, we're going to invest more in high voltage formed coils. We took what we knew from low and medium voltage to suit higher voltage-brought in ex-OEM engineers, consultants, material suppliers . . . not the marketers but the engineers. "We use two basic stator insulation systems," he continued. "What we started with, for the higher-voltage, larger-size windings, was a resin-rich system. Then we needed global VPI too. What we opted for was a two-part epoxy resin system based on the VIPAK idea, with the resin itself in the tape and the hardener in the tank. We have 8,000 gallons in storage."

Occupying a separate 60,000-square-foot facility three miles away from the Farmington headquarters, the WGGS Coil Division produces 60,000 coils annually, using two million pounds of copper. Added Paul Heikkinen: "I did a calculation a year or two ago, and figured out that if the tape we used on coils in a year was unrolled end to end, it would stretch from Los Angeles to New York and back again."

Several views of the balance bunker. The photo on the left shows the test console inside the balance bunker. In the center is u turbine generator rotor mounted for a text run inside. The photo at right shows the driving end of the balance bunker, with the 2,000 hp motor. Note the "keyed" fit of the ceiling section in its horizontal track.

This operation now employs three-fourths of all WGGS workers in Farmington. They're on three eight-hour weekday shifts plus two weekend shifts. Said Paul Heikkinen: "That operation is busting at the seams right now. We're too crowded. We need to expand and add people, and I'm trying to figure out how."

Since 1995 the coil shop has occupied what was formerly an automobile dealership, complete with glassed-in showroom now displaying colorfully painted mockups of some of the larger coils. Coil manufacture itself occupies the main floor of the former service garage, with a smaller Roebel bar facility in a separate room.

Manufacturing variance

"This wasn't a manufacturing zone," Heikkinen explained. "We had to get a variance from the city for our operation." Much of the output is at ratings of 6,600 to 13,200 volts. All coils use film- coated rectangular wire that is machine-taped as it's fed into one of the four loopers (the largest produces loops up to 150 inches).

Semiconducting slot section coatings and end turn grading use tape only. Leads are taped (no sleeving) and tinned for outside customers; WGGS silver brazes connections, so leads are left bare. Other equipment in the coil shop includes five spreaders, half a dozen hot presses for the resinrich coils, and numerous hand- and machine-taping stations.

Some OEM's supply all the materials as well as the complete design, with WGGS doing the fabrication. "We don't see many glitches," said Heikkinen. "We do loop and spread maybe three coils in each batch, and check them in a fixture to look for pinch points, top-to-bottom clearance, things like that, before we loop the rest of the set."

A smaller facility not far from the coil shop, opened in 2006, does conventional repairs and rewinds on industrial motors up to 50 hp, as well as pump repair, with a staff of nine plus eight field service people. Stocked there are TEFC and explosion-proof two-, four-, and six-pole motors from 3 to 60 hp, as well as some downhole submersibles.

Another major division of the WGGS Farmington operation is Field Service. "We have about 30 people assigned to that," said Heikkinen. "But when we need them we can add people from our other operations. There's a lot of cross-training.

"Our field service starts with diagnostic testing. The next step up is reconditioning, including cleaning. Our only method in the field is cryogenic. That does have some limitations, especially with petroleum product deposits; that calls for elbow grease. We do resonant frequency tests on generator end windings. Sometimes they have a natural 120 cycle frequency, and we have to change the bracing.

"We do perceive more maintenance consciousness, both preventive and predictive, with our customers. But we're also seeing a trend of fewer staff, less industrial experience on the customer side. They're increasingly depending on companies like us. The testing and diagnostics we do on electrical equipment is a tremendous part of our business.

"We're not doing any contract maintenance, but a couple of years ago we started offering a job-site generator 'assessment' program. That's driven by several types of equipment outage. There's a different formula to match each window. For a one-day outage, we'll do borescope inspections, an insulation resistance test, polarization index, maybe power factor tip-up. A three-day outage, we'll add other things such as core tightness. If it's a full- blown, complete dismantling, we may do an El Cid test, wedge tightness check, retaining ring inspection, things like that. The first year, we did 48 assessments. Last year, there were 84. This year, we've done 150 just so far [the first quarter]."

Staffing challenges

However WGGS may differ in other ways, Heikkinen has the universal service center problem of staffing. "It's harder and harder to find people," he said, "especially with the hours you have to keep, when you have to be on call 24 hours a day. During outage seasons we're working 24/7 in the main shop. You can buy the greatest equipment, but if you don't have the people who can use it, and use it properly, you're lost."

Day-to-day electrical and mechanical problems are handled by a staff of three engineers, one of whom is at the Coil Division. Outside consultants are used for more complex issues.

Taping area in the WGGS coil shop.

On-the-job training is emphasized here. Outside training? "We should probably do more," Heikkinen admitted. "But we're just too busy." One of his "second jobs" is a presentation of electrical machinery basics taking about an hour a day, two or three days a week, for four to eight shop employees. Also, he said, "I do a one- day class a couple of times a year for the non-technical people, so they can have some idea of what's involved in the paperwork they see."

In connection with its ISO 9001-2000 registration, WGGS maintains a scheduled calibration system for all its measuring equipment. Micrometers and the like are sent out annually. "We do have some on- site standards," Heikkinen added. "If test equipment will travel, we send that out too. Otherwise we bring people in. We have a number of a-c and d-c hipots, and it's preferable to have those done here. The shortest cycle is one year; some items are on two or three years."

One of Heikkinen's first tasks after getting his degree was to install a complete computerized accounting system. "Before that," he said, "everything was either done manually or by an outside accountant."

Management uses a "Balance Scorecard" to evaluate overall company operations. Explained Heikkinen: "We started that about the time we got into ISO 9000. It's how we grade ourselves.

"We've established a tolerable limit for success for a whole string of indicators-return on capital, rework, warranty, accidents, turns on inventory, gross margin, days to collection, customer satisfaction . . . for instance, we figure a 93% rate of on-time delivery is our lower limit. All these are on a computer display that's updated every month and reviewed quarterly. The philosophy is, if you measure different aspects of the business, and you keep them all in balance within an optimum window, the company will improve." The repeated facility expansion and sales growth indicates that WGGS is indeed seeing such improvement.

Coils await further processing.

Major equipment in the WGGS main service facility in Farmington is shown in this floor plan. At the top is the 60 x 200 ft. machine shop, which Ben Heikkinen almost doubled in size after taking over England Electric. The lower building is the 80 x 200 ft. 2003 addition.

A = largest engine lathe, 60-inch swing, 31 ft. centers

B = Vertical turret lathe, 84-inch swing, 4 ft. centers

C = Babbitt bearing spinning lathe

D = Engine lathes

E = Horizontal boring mill, 6 x 10 x 9 feet

F = Milling machines

G = Tooling and inventory room

H = Steam cleaning

I = Vertical turret lathe, 14 x 12 feet

J = Stress relieving oven

K = Sand blast

L = Water injection burnoff oven, 10 x 10 x 10 feet

M = CNC lathe, 18 x 40 inches

N = CNC mill, 18 x 22 x 36 inches

O = Bake oven

P = Newer bake oven, 14 feet wide, 16 feet high, 14 feet deep

Q = 13.8 kV 2000 kVA test center

R = Balance bunker

The WGGS headquarters in Farmington. Main shop is in foreground: beyond is the high bay addition of 2003.

S = 14 foot VPI system

T = Offices & storage

U = Pole winding, insulation mfr., wire storage

V = Clean rooms for turbo rotor winding

W = Field coil edge bender

X = Large stator winding area

By Richard L. Nailen, P.E., EA Engineering Editor

Copyright Barks Publications Jun 2008

(c) 2008 Electrical Apparatus. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.