Alstom Grid – Power Reliably from the Socket
What is the greatest surprise for visitors to the Alstom Grid plant in Mönchengladbach? Maybe they are impressed by the history of the location, going back over a hundred years and the site of a number of companies? Or perhaps the many years on the market as the biggest supplier of transformers for German power stations? Or is it the unexpected joinery? Because the coiled copper conductors in the transformers are insulated with wood, a task mainly performed by hand. Is it the high testing hall with the artificial lightning? Or the fact that Alstom's business keeps booming, even in times of crisis, because energy drives everything?
In Germany, if you hear from the media that the power grid needs expanding, then Alstom Grid is bound to be involved somehow. That's because transformers have been made at the production site of the French conglomerate in Mönchengladbach for more than 100 years. Transformers are needed for any type of power transmission. Little boys with train sets are familiar with transformers, which are used to reduce the voltage. With big overhead power lines with high voltages and losses over long distances, transformers ensure that there is constant electrical potential in the grid. In Germany, the grid is very stable. Large-scale power failures like in American cities are improbable. When there are discussions about power grids in Germany, the topics are different ones: The power stations and the main supply areas used to be well connected. In the 1960s and 1970s, the power lines were installed by the power generation companies to the consumer, from the coal-fired power plants in the Ruhr region and the Cologne lowland or the nuclear power stations in the Rhine-Main areas, to the industrial estates and cities. The shift towards renewable energy has meant a change of direction. Offshore wind parks are to be erected by the coastlines. But in the coastal areas, the demand for electricity is low. The greatest demand tends to be in the industrial regions of southern Germany. Today's grid isn't prepared for this. There isn't an efficient transmission network from north to south.
The nuclear phase-out and the move towards renewable energy sources also provide Alstom with new opportunities. They can build transformers for new power lines, as well as for new power stations, including combined heat and power plants. Wherever power is transmitted, Alstom is involved. Its biggest customers include E.ON, RWE, and Deutsche Bahn, which has its own power grid. The first transformer from Mönchengladbach was built in 1904. In 1884, Max Schorch founded a factory for electric motors, dynamos, arc lamps and electrical insulation for the textiles industry in Rheydt, which is now part of Mönchengladbach. The Mönchengladbach location itself at Rheinstrasse has a long and varied history. In 1925, the plant became a public limited company, before being destroyed at the end of the Second World War. In 1959, the factory was absorbed into Continental Elektroindustrie AG and then became a subsidiary of AEG in 1990. In 1994, AEG sold its entire power transmission and distribution division to Alstom, and then the plant was taken over by the French conglomerate Areva in 2004. In summer 2010, Alstom bought back the power transmission division. It is now an independent line of business called Alstom Grid. In 2008, €16 million was invested in the company, including the building of a new production hall, which tripled capacity. At the former Schorch plant in Mönchengladbach, up to 400 employees are now working again in two shifts. Before it was taken over by Areva, the workforce had shrunk to around 200. Now, up to 120 transformers are manufactured every year. A quarter of the transformers in Germany come from Alstom Grid in Mönchengladbach.
The plant has established itself as a key player on the market. Its products are well known and valued. In 10 years, more than 1,000 transformers have been produced – with a total power output of more than 100,000 megavolt amperes (MVA). When demand rocketed between 2008 and 2010, Alstom was the main supplier for the German power stations. E.ON ordered transformers from Mönchengladbach for its new power station in in Datteln, as did RWE for Lingen (gas) and Weisweiler (coal). In the affiliated group, the plant on the Lower Rhine supplies the German and the French market, as well as the Middle East. It has just received a major order from Iraq. But because transformers are heavy, it is better if they are manufactured close to their final destination.
Nevertheless, the German expertise and workmanship are particularly valued. Each transformer is unique, tailored to its task and location. Manufacturing a transformer takes several months. Much of the work still needs to be done by hand, and experienced employees are needed for this. In Mönchengladbach, all the workers are skilled. The experience – especially of the wire coilers – is irreplaceable. It is primarily the employees who achieve the punctuality and delivery reliability of almost 100% – a fantastic score.
The finished transformers are transported by lorry on roads and on the autobahn, for example to the port in Duisburg. From there, they sail to their final destinations and each one makes the power supply in Europe that little bit more reliable. But Alstom is also a leader in social responsibility in Germany: The share of severely disabled among the company's employees is 6.4%, and special workshops take place for employees who are hearing impaired.
ALSTOM Grid GmbH, Bereich Schorch Transformatoren
Werksleiter Dr. Jochen Schwarz
Tel.: 02161 944 0