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Doing Your Best When Nature is Doing Its Worst

Blog post   •   Dec 21, 2016 04:13 GMT

Ready to roll. The completed Turbine Generator starts its journey

On November 8, 2015, the middle of South India’s northeast monsoon season, a depression formed in the Bay of Bengal. Over the next few days it settled over southern Tamil Nadhu state, turning the world slate gray with driving rain. On the 15th, it strengthened and headed north, following the coast towards Chennai, Tamil Nadhu’s capital. It advanced steadily and relentlessly, inundating all before it with record downpours. In its path lay one of Toshiba’s most important overseas operations, Toshiba JSW Power Systems Pvt. Ltd. (TJPS).

On the shop floor at the TJPS plant, everybody knew the danger—the Coromandel Coast is flat and fertile, flooding part of its history—and people did what they could. Even so, after the waters rose on the evening of the 16th, the next morning came as a shock. The plant was a complete mess, its wall mud gray to a height of 300mm. “So much was damaged,” recalls Kuppuswamy Prabhu, “Finishing materials, shop floor documentation, tools, electrical equipment.” “Yes,” agrees his colleague, Prabhudas Sandipghiya, “It was a calamity!”

But that was just the beginning.

A Plant for the Next India

TJPS is new, established only in September 2008; new and ambitious. A joint venture between Toshiba and JSW Group, one of the sub-continent’s largest conglomerates, and originally called Toshiba JSW Turbine and Generator Pvt. Ltd., it’s a company for the new, bustling India, supporting economic growth with state-of-the-art steam turbines and generators. The company completed its factory and offices on a site just north of Chennai at the end of 2011, and started operation in 2012.

In January 2014 it integrated the power plant engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) operations of Toshiba India Pvt. Ltd., and changed its name to reflect its capabilities as a one-stop solutions provider in thermal power.

In the words of its Managing Director, Yoshiaki Inayama, TJPS’s Chennai plant is “Toshiba Group’s first and only overseas thermal power plant manufacturing facility.” It’s also an impressive one. Its state-of-the art capabilities include the world’s largest turbine balancing tunnel to test rotors, underlining Toshiba’s original intent: to build a world-class facility for the production of supercritical steam turbines and generators for India and the export market.

Toshiba made fully sure the plant was ready for operation from day one. During construction, 59 locally recruited personnel were given language and technical training in Japan, in programs lasting six to 10 months. They returned home as team leaders, ready to pass on their skills. Keihin Operations in Yokohama, the mother plant, also played its part, sending teams of engineers to Chennai to train local staff, ensuring that Toshiba’s accumulated know-how and advanced capabilities were transferred to the new operation.

Eager for new challenges

Prabhudas Sandipghiya and Kuppuswamy Prabhu have been with TJPS since its beginning. Mr. Prabhu works in the Manufacturing Department, as an assistant manager and team leader responsible for generator assembly. He was trained in Japan for six months and is happy to chat away in Japanese. After eight years at Toyo Denki’s Indian subsidiary building 1MW to 60MW generation systems, he was attracted to working on bigger systems: “It was my dream to work in a large capacity generator environment, and to be associated with a Japanese company known for uncompromising quality.”

Mr. Sandipghiya is general manager for quality assurance, an expert in the plant’s manufacturing process. He has an BE and ME in mechanical engineering, and before TJPS he worked for 21 years at an Indian heavy engineering company, Larson and Touboro, Ltd. For him, the draw of TJPS was the overall challenge of a new company and producing “Japanese quality at an Indian price.”

Asked about working in TJPS, both men are very positive. They like Toshiba’s methodical approach, the way everything is documented and carefully planned, and the way that the discussion process involves everybody and is not done in isolation. “One of the great challenges for all of us,” says Mr. Sandipghiya, “was to ensure everyone is aligned to requirements of quality, and the process and then sequence…and it was really enjoyable, because you face the challenge and you apply your mind and align with the organization and keep the Toshiba brand intact.”

Mr. Prabhu recalls his early days, and that, “In the beginning it can be very difficult to understand, but day-to-day we can understand and learn. I learned many things in Japan.” He also likes the fact of daily tool-box meetings, where operators meet on the shop floor to discuss what is to be done, so everybody knows the day’s objectives.

                                                         Mr. Sandipghiya

                                                             Mr. Prabhu

When it comes to building supercritical Turbine Generator, they speak with one voice: “Excited!” Supercritical Turbine Generators are the thoroughbreds of thermal power. They operate at higher temperatures, are more efficient, produce more electricity per input, and push out fewer emissions. They are also big and complex. TJPS proved equal to the challenge of the job. A generator has two major components, the stator and the rotor that fits inside it. By February 2015, the stator was completed, and in November the rotor was nearing completion. Everything was going well, with testing on the near horizon. But the monsoon season was not finished with TJPS. Not by a long way.

The waters return

On November 29th, another even bigger cyclone spawned, and by December 2 the whole of Chennai was under water: roads closed, power out, the city declared a disaster area. So was the plant. A swirling torrent surged through all defenses to a depth of 1.6 meters, five times the November level. Even worse, it stayed there for 72 hours. “All the members despaired,” when they saw the plant,” recalls Mr. Prabhu. Mr. Sandipghiya is terser: “It was horrible.”

The first inundation was bad, the second devastating. This time, water got into the computer numeric control systems that operated the large equipment, effectively disabling the plant. Worst of all, it reached the nearly finished rotor.

Horrible though it was, the people of TJPS were determined not to give in. “We had three priorities,” explains Mr. Sandipghiya: “Ensure the safety of workers and their families, keep the customer informed, and then our main goal, recovery”

It was a battle fought on many fronts. Toshiba engineers shuttled in and out from Japan for months, bringing expertise. TJPS started developing local vendors who could help make essential components. The clean-up of the plant was originally outsourced, but when the operators saw the progress they said, “It’s too slow. Let’s do it ourselves.” So they did. For one machine, they contacted the supplier for help, but were told it was impossible to repair. So they stripped it down and repaired it themselves.

Progress was not fast at the beginning, but the plant was reclaimed from the mud, the machines and equipment restored and repaired. It all took time, more than anybody wanted, but six months later the plant was back to normal, its employees more enthused and determined than ever, and once again, TJPS’s first supercritical Turbine Generator was nearing testing.

Looking to the future

On the morning of 19th August, with celebratory fireworks lighting up the dawn, the turbine generator left the plant for Kamarajar Port, bound for the Kudgi Super Thermal Power Plant in Kanataka state, the first of two Ultra-supercritical Turbine Generators that TJPS will supply. As the huge transporter left the complex, the company’s employees could look back on nine months of overcoming adversity and building one of the most advanced Turbine Generator in India. It was a chance to congratulate themselves on a job, on many jobs, all well done. It was also an opportunity to look ahead.

“Building supercritical Turbines and Generators will contribute to skills and to GDP,” says Mr. Prabhu, “and we have great teamwork.” Mr. Sandipghiya is even more ambitious. “TJPS Chennai Factory also has the capability for manufacturing nuclear steam turbines and generators. We will be delightful if we will be able to contribute this area in India also in the future.”

That is a consideration for another day and time, but after all TJPS has achieved, and all the difficulties it has overcome, it is impossible to doubt the company or its confidence.

Smiles all round for a job well done