The service team of Konecranes has participated in the Vestas China crane project from the start. An extensive service agreement guarantees that the lifting equipment vital to production operate without disturbances.
Fiery splashes light up the enormous foundry for a moment in Xuzhou, East China. Incandescent steel molten with cheap night electricity flows into the depths of a mold box in the dusk of dawn.
According to a local museum, iron has been casted here since the times of the Qing dynasty. The timing is broad—the dynasty started in 1644 and ended in 1911.
After a cooling period of two days, the Foundry Worker Huang Hai at Vestas Casting (Xu Zhou) Co., Ltd. factory opens the mold with his work mates. The steel has solidified into a wind turbine hub, almost two meters in diameter.
A hub is the part where the rotor blades are attached.
The type designation of this hub is V 80, that is, the diameter of the rotor blades will be 80 meters (262.5 feet).
One can get an idea of the proportions of such a wind turbine when one sees the model power plant built next to the factory. Seen from a close distance, its rotor of only 45 meters (147.6 feet) in diameter seems to fill the whole sky.
Huang attaches the hub which weighs almost ten tons to the two hooks of the Konecranes crane moving at the ceiling level. It helps to turn the piece to different positions for further processing.
Moving around and also inside the hub, Huang controls the movements of the crane with the two joysticks of the remote control which hangs from his belt.
In professional language, the crane has three directions of movement. Along the rails, or bridge; crosswise, or trolley; and up/down, or hoist.
Down time down
The foundry in Xuzhou is owned by Vestas Wind Systems and it manufactures three wind power plant components. In addition to hubs, steel is molded into wind turbine foundations and bearing houses.
The products manufactured in Xuzhou are delivered to the Vestas assembly plant in Tianjin, North China, or to other factories of the company in the USA and Europe.
The Vestas Tianjin plant has over a hundred industrial cranes supplied by Konecranes. They also have a Konecranes service agreement.
Vestas manufactures all wind power plant parts in China. The heaviest part of a power plant, that is, the steel tower, is usually purchased from a local steel structure manufacturer near the construction site.
The cranes are a vital part of the operation of the foundry. Each product is molded according to an order. Meaning that someone is waiting for the timely arrival of every hub, foundation and bearing house at the assembly line.
“The production must run without interruptions one hour after another 24/7,” states Jan Nygaard, Technical Manager of the plant.
“At other foundries I have seen what a terrible headache a crane that acts up can be. In no case do I want to experience such a thing again. That is why we have concluded a service agreement for all our 25 Konecranes cranes and the Konecranes lift truck,” says Nygaard.
The Vestas foundry in Xuzhou concluded a two-year site service agreement with Konecranes in 2009. The agreement covers regular inspections and services, repairs planned in advance and those done on needs basis, and training.
Konecranes has a team of three service engineers, led by Ma Yong, at the foundry regularly.
“The personnel here at the factory have one less worry. We guarantee that the cranes are available without interruptions,” says Ma.
The production capacity of the foundry is 800 tons per week.
The cranes are divided into three categories of importance. For equipment most critical for production, there are detailed back up plans in case of disturbances. These cranes are also serviced and inspected more often than the others.
Right there from the very start
The service team of Konecranes has participated in the Vestas Xuzhou crane project from the start.
“We want to find the best solution for the customer from the start. All information concerning the project, the different lifting equipment and service, is shared,” says Yang Qi An, Service Manager at the Konecranes Shanghai company.
“In Xuzhou, the service team worked together with the customer’s project team already during the installation and commissioning of the cranes, thus building a relationship with the customer,” says Yang.
The service team also trains the factory’s own personnel to use the cranes. Not one crane has its own operator, but almost all workers have obtained a crane license. Each of them can thus operate the crane when needed.
Most cranes are equipped with a radio operated remote controller. The operator can then use the crane while walking on the factory floor.
The heaviest load to be lifted at a foundry is the mold box which weighs over a hundred tons.
Ever more companies choose the service agreement
The East China regional unit of Konecranes operates in the six eastern provinces of the country, located around Shanghai. The area is the wealthiest in the country. The service unit has more than 150 contract customers in this region.
“More than half of the cranes serviced under the agreement are delivered by Konecranes. The rest are other makes. All the time a bigger part of the buyers of Konecranes cranes also want to make a service agreement with us,” says Yang Qi An.
The Vestas foundry is an important reference for Konecranes. Potential crane customers are often brought here to get to know Konecranes products and to hear about the operation of contract service directly from the service customers.
“Vestas is one of our key customers worldwide and in China. It is good that our other customers can see here how the contract service works,” says Yang.
Xuzhou is located by the high-speed train track, the construction of which was completed between Shanghai and Beijing just a few months ago. The train which makes the trip in five hours has considerably improved the connections of Xuzhou to these two most important cities of China.
Safety comes first
Uncompromising safety thinking is seen everywhere at the Vestas factory. Jan Nygaard informs the visitors of safety instructions at the very start, for example, the meeting place in case of an alarm.
Every person accessing the foundry must wear safety shoes, protective clothing, hearing, breathing, and eye protection, and a helmet.
Many workers also wear other protective gear according to their work tasks. The workers of the fettling and grinding area have got a fresh air hose breathing apparatus which blows filtered air on their face, and a working light on their helmets.
The safety status is told to a visitor right on the digital display in the reception lobby. “332 days have passed since last industrial injury.”
An emergency generator is also part of the foundry security system. It produces enough power for safely emptying the furnace full of molten steel, and to run down the other processes for the duration of an outage.
The electricity consumption of the foundry is three million kilowatt hours per year, half of which is spent on the night-time melting of steel. The power required for melting cannot be produced by the emergency generator.
Together with the Vestas representatives, the service team of Konecranes is all the time developing new solutions for improving the safety and productivity of the cranes.
RailQ and RopeQ into use soon
In Xuzhou, the new rail inspection system RailQ will soon be taken into use. In it, a robot traveling the rails of the crane inspects the evenness, straightness, and other necessary parameters of the rails.
In China, industrial cranes must be inspected regularly. A crane which passes the inspection acceptably will receive an operation license from the authorities for two years at a time.
The RopeQ service, which inspects the wire ropes of the crane, will also be taken into use soon. RopeQ will inspect the current condition of the wire ropes, also what one cannot see visually of the rope, using magnetic flux leakage.
11 heavy duty cranes of the altogether 25 cranes at the Vestas factory are made as special order just for this foundry. Their speeds, safety properties and control technique are the best possible for the special task of each. The 25 ton forklift of the foundry is also delivered by Konecranes.
The Konecranes forklift complements the ceiling suspended cranes. It is used for moving casts to outdoor storage areas, or for lifting the casts onto storage shelves, or from shelves onto a loading vehicle platform for delivery to a customer.
The shake out of sand molds is one challenging situation for a crane. The mold box weighing dozens of tons is lowered onto a shaking surface to remove the sand used in the previous casting from the mold before the next casting. The handling of a shaking mold requires special properties of a crane.
Many heavy cranes come with a sway control system. When lifted loads are accelerated or decelerated, load swing is always present. The sway control system dampens and stops the load swing automatically so that the operator does not have to do this manually. Through sway control load handling is more accurate and faster. Thus sway control helps to improve the safety and productivity of the process.
Wind power wins
Vestas Wind Systems A/S is the world’s biggest producer of wind power plants. The turnover of the company is over seven billion Euros, and it employs over 23,000 people.
The production of wind power increases 20 percent a year. The share of wind power in electricity production is the biggest in the home country of Vestas, Denmark, where a fifth of the production is wind power. About half of it goes for Denmark’s own consumption. The rest is exported abroad.
The costs for producing wind power go down about four percent annually. Currently, the price is 2.5–7.0 euro cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the windiness of the place and the size of the park. The price is lower than the prices of electricity paid by the consumer.
China is the largest user of wind power in the world, ahead of both the United States and Germany.
Xuzhou - The founding place of the second dynasty of China
Xuzhou with its two million inhabitants is a center of the heavy engineering industry. The Vestas factory, which has been in operation for a couple of years, is located in the Golden Hill Bridge industrial park of the city.
Xuzhou residents say that their city is the founding place of the second dynasty of China, that is, the Han dynasty (206 BCE–200 CE). There are hardly any tourists in the city.
The grand airport shows the wealth of the area, as well as the pleasant, park like expressway leading to the city. In the middle of Xuzhou, there is the swimmable Yunlonghu lake, landscaped to look idyllic. One can have fun on the lake with a pedal boat or a small motorboat.
In the evening, the high class restaurants on the shores tempt the local people and the few foreigners living here.
Story by Juha-Pekka Kervinen | Photos by Lucas Schifres