The future of transformer manufacturing

The US market is going through an unprecedented moment of energy transition given to a combination of various factors

WEG has a sound decision-making process based on investment speed tied in with capturing sound market shares that yield certain returns for their shareholders

In this interview, Marc Schillebeeckx (VP Transformers USA at WEG Transformers USA LLC), Phillip James (General Manager at WEG Transformers USA LLC) and Marc Stefan Debus(Sales Manager and Key Account for Automatic Core Stacking Technology at Heinrich Georg GmbH) are discuss­ing the trends in the transformer market in the US, as well as today's challenges in the transformer manufacturing sec­tor and how they work together to meet these challenges.

The interview is moderated by Ales Ber­tuzzi.

The US market is going through an unprecedented moment of energy transition given to a combination of various factors. First, an old existing transmission and distribution network, built over 50 years ago when the electrification process began, now needs replacement due to the understandable aging of the infrastructure. Then the inputs of renewable energy and smart grid technologies, not least of importance for future years, the energy transition connected with all transportation, involving electric vehicles and public transport. Besides all of this, with an interesting policy for the US to return to more independence of the supply chain, including transformers, considered of strategic importance for the reliability of the electrical grid. All the above considered and underlying the interest of the US market in service, innovation, and automation due to difficulties in finding and retaining skilled and experienced labour force in repetitive work makes North America one of the very im­portant markets in these coming years. 

Bertuzzi: Over the past decade, WEG T&D has grown to a major player in the Americas with transformer manufacturing sites in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the US. What is the driving force behind this great success story?

Schillebeeckx: The driving force be­hind the success of WEG in general is their willingness to invest in people and machinery. WEG has a sound de­cision-making process based on invest­ment speed tied in with capturing sound market shares that yield certain returns for their shareholders. WEG is not in­terested in just capturing market shares; Internal Rate of Returns are prime, as is the case with any investment WEG has made in the past.

By its nature, WEG is a driving force in the motor industry, whereas WEG T&D is a driving force within the Americas to become an important player in the trans­former industry; hence the high degree of investment over the past five years in North America and which will continue in the coming years.

Marc Schillebeeckx, VP Transformers USA at WEG Transformers USA LLC

Notwithstanding the above said and the unique position WEG enjoys from a brand name recognition point of view, at WEG, we are always attentive to the future and to the needs and opportunities that may arise. Last fiscal year, we challenged ourselves: 1) to review our North American strategies in order to allow WEG to continue delivering excellent results, which led to the construction of a new distribution facility geared towards the Utility Market, and 2) invest in new technologies as well as investing in the development of people and the communities where we operate, which led towards an automation cycle of all our transformer plants in North Amer­ica and therefore our partnership with Heinrich Georg GmbH Maschinen­fabrik (GEORG) to purchase the robot stacking line.

Shearing unit of GEORG precisioncut TBA300 robotline

Stacking unit with robotic gripper of GEORG precisioncut TBA300 robotline

Bertuzzi: GEORG has been closely cooperating with WEG T&D for many years, and we are also more than happy to contribute to WEG's further growth in North America with our automated solutions for transformer core manufacturing. Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you're facing right now in the US?

Phillip James:  Clearly, some of the chal­lenges that we see in today's market are the main drivers as to why we have partnered with GEORG on the new TBA400 robotline.

Overall, in the US, there is fierce competition for labor resources to grow any business, especially in manufactur­ing. WEG is fully committed to the North American market, and we must invest in solutions that reduce the labor content to provide our products.

Marc Stefan Debus, Sales Manager and Key Account for Automatic Core Stacking Technology at Heinrich Georg GmbH

At the same time, when we reduce labor content, we must significantly improve Quality and Safety with any automation project. WEG sees this investment with GEORG providing tremendous value in all three areas. lt will clearly reduce the labor hours required to build our product, allowing WEG to re­allocate those resources to other parts of our business.

In our company, no one ever loses a job with WEG due to improved manufacturing or business practices. We also know this new solution improves the overall quality of the cores that will be pro­duced, thereby lowering our overall mate­rial cost and improving overall variances in our product. This is very critical in today's electrical steel markets, where the cost and availability of this material is becoming much more challenging every year. Finally, compared to the current method that we utilize to produce stacked cores, this new solution from GEORG will significantly transform this area of our factory into one of the safest parts of our business.

In addition to GEORG increasing its physical presence in the United States, WEG believes that GEORG has also provided one of the premium online support services in the industry

Debus: With our robotline technology, we have taken an important step on the way to the unmanned production of transformer cores. This is a milestone in the long history of our company, and we are very proud of it. With the many technical features of our sys­tems, we can make our customers' work much easier and more efficient. Coil changes, for example, are taken over fully automatically by the correspond­ing systems. The quality of the end product is also positively influenced by this forward-looking technology. No-load losses can be significantly re­duced, which ultimately leads to more efficient transformers and makes a significant contribution to a greener future.

Bertuzzi: For GEORG the North American market is of strategic importance. Just this year GEORG opened a new office in Atlanta, GA besides having our manufacturing facility in Roanoke, VA, since 2016. What are WEG's future plans for North America?

Phillip James: Anytime that WEG in­vests in a project of this significance, we go through an overall scoring matrix where we assign what we see as overall value is several critical areas of the plan to imple­ment a new process. This helps us provide an objective view of the "Best Value" pro­posal from companies all over the world. Service and Support are absolutely one of those key criteria that WEG applies a heavy weighting on in our strategic decisions.

Schillebeeckx: The fact that GEORG is expanding their business and service pres­ence in the United States, just makes this an even more attractive project for WEG as a whole in North America. In addition to GEORG increasing its physical pres­ence in the United States, WEG believes that GEORG has also provided one of the premium online support services in the industry. We have selected GEORG due to the proximity of the service center, 2) reli­ability and 3) innovation of design which will yield to a high internal rate of return. Like Phillip said, "GEORG provides WEG with the Best Value proposition''!

Debus: A few years ago, we started manu­facturing TBA lines in addition to grind­ing machines in our factory in Roanoke, VA. First, we started with assembly activ­ities and then carried out the installation and commissioning with experts from Germany. We have steadily increased the independence of our local team, and in the future, the vertical range of manufac­ture is to be further expanded. So far, we have focused on machines for the produc­tion of distribution transformers in Roa­noke. In the future, however, we can also imagine the production of further TBA line series. We are continuously expand­ing our local know-how. This also makes a positive contribution to the expansion of our service activities. We are always striv­ing to expand our network. .

GEORG can already look back on many years of experience in the North Ameri­can market. This goes back more than 50 years and includes the delivery of a total of more than 70 machines to North America. Especially in the last two years, however, our business has once again experienced a considerable increase, which is due to the market situation, on the one hand, and the willingness of our customers to invest, but on the other hand, is also the result of our intensive efforts in the sales and after-sales area here in the US.

Again, we are grateful for contributing to WEG's further growth in the Americas.

Bertuzzi: Thanks to both Marc and Phillip for sharing your thoughts with us, and all the best for your business.

Schillebeeckx: You are welcome.

Debus: Thank you very much!

Phillip James, General Manager at WEG Transformers USA LLC

Georg North America Inc. in Roanoke, VA

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Victor has been with us as an industrial mechanic since he started his training on August 1st, 2016. He comes from Guatemala, feels very comfortable with us and has meanwhile developed into a good fitter who has already been on his first field assembly assignments. Victor: we are very happy to have you in our team.

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