Transporting large scale power equipment

Transport of very large power plant components is no small matter, and solutions must be individually designed and implemented. Tildy Bayar spoke with one company that leads in this space to find out what kinds of challenges are involved

Much is written about the operation and maintenance of power equipment in these pages, but an aspect that is rarely mentioned is how these large pieces of kit reach their ultimate destination.

Transport of very large components is no small matter, and solutions must be individually designed around the specifications of each power plant component, from gas turbine rotors (weighing between 75 and 99 tonnes) to wind turbine blades (up to 35 metres long) to complete mobile power solutions (up to 22 x 3.5 x 4.2 metres and weighing as much as 91 tonnes).

Whether by land, sea or air, unique considerations are involved in arranging transport, engineering and building the necessary supporting equipment or even infrastructure, and loading and unloading. We spoke with one company that regularly transports large power equipment to see what kinds of challenges are involved, how they are addressed, and what’s envisioned for the future as power components continue to increase in scale.

Volga-Dnepr is a global cargo transport company with offices worldwide, including in Russia, the UK and the US. To date, it has delivered over four million tonnes of cargo to over 1200 airports in more than 190 countries. The company’s scope includes power equipment such as gas turbines and rotors (weighing in at 76 tonnes), generator rotors, diesel gensets, hydro turbine runners (up to 98 tonnes), wind power components, transformers, mobile substations and even complete mobile power plants (90+ tonnes).

The company maintains a fleet of 12 Antonov An-124-100 ‘Ruslan’ aircraft, the world’s largest series-produced air freighter, which features a 36 metre x 6 metre x 4.4 metre cargo compartment and can carry a 120 mt max payload. In addition, a fleet of five medium-sized Ilyushin IL-76TD-90VD (45 mt payload) and 15 Boeing 747 aircraft, which can carry up to 135 tonnes, is available as well as small, 20-tonne capacity Boeing 737Fs.

“Sustainable power generation relies not only on reliable equipment but also on the ability of an OEM or service provider to execute repairs in a timely manner,” says Vasiliy Zhukov, Global Industry Director for Energy & Heavy Machinery at Volga-Dnepr. “When it comes to generator rotor deterioration or damage due to severe incidents, fast replacement is needed. In such cases only the Antonov An-124-100 is capable of carrying and quickly moving heavy and oversized equipment.

“Emergency or temporary power supply solutions are another case where our cargo freighters are able to minimize the power disruptions to the grid – the An-124-100 can carry long trailer-mounted mobile gas turbines as well as large diesel generators, for example.”

Within Russia the company also maintains a fleet of over 30 lorries, while in other countries road transport needs are subcontracted out. “Most of our demand comes from other countries,” Zhukov says, “and our fleet is quite small in comparison with our partners’ fleets outside of Russia, but it is a competitive advantage within Russia.”

Large components, big challenges

Zhukov says there are several main issues involved when transporting large power equipment. First is the equipment’s dimensions, with the height often needing to be reduced so it will fit inside the cabin. “We usually have to decrease the height to about 4 metres, which sometimes means it needs additional dismantling of certain parts,” he explains. The next issue is load distribution on the cargo cabin floor, which is managed either through the use of existing platforms or the manufacture of new frames specific to the piece being transported. “Use of additional frames is absolutely necessary in these cases,” Zhukov notes. “Basically, within the flight the overload increases the load on the design of the cargo cabin, which can lead to damage or destruction. We have to create these additional frames so the overload is evenly distributed across the cabin floor.”

G-force by axis:

X axis : towards 2.3 g; backwards 1.5 g

Y axis : up 2.0 g; down 2.5g

Z axis : left 1.5 g; right 1.5 g

External crane loading

Credit: Volga-Dnepr

Unloading for road transport

Credit: Volga-Dnepr

Related to load distribution is a third issue, cargo lashing. “When we talk about heavy equipment, it is absolutely mandatory to fix the cargo inside the cargo compartment in accordance with the maximum operating overload. Both the cargo and the package must withstand the max overloads during flight,” says Zhukov, “because during the flight the G-forces on all axes are affecting the cargo.”

Finally, due to the dimensions and weight of large power equipment, it is necessary to use special loading equipment such as off-board and on-board overhead cranes and self-propelled vehicles.

Zhukov uses a recent example project to describe how the transport process works, from the time Volga-Dnepr receives an order to unloading at the final destination. For this project, a customer enquiry arrived in late 2015 for transport of a Francis-type hydro turbine runner from St Petersburg to Magadan in Russia. The turbine runner, destined for the 570 MW Ust-Srednekanskaya hydropower plant, was six metres in diameter and weighed 85 tonnes. Volga-Dnepr engineered and designed a transport frame for the runner and mounted it at the production site before delivering it to Pulkovo Airport by trailer.

To load the package aboard the aircraft, Volga-Dnepr’s engineers assembled a ramp extension with slide rails. After placing the runner on the ramp extension, the runner was pulled inside the craft using a winch and secured. The loading procedure took the team around 10 hours to complete.

According to Zhukov, it generally takes three to four hours to respond to the customer with an initial price quote for the job “if the cargo is quite usual for us and doesn’t need any additional cargo prep, packaging, etc. The mailbox that is open for enquiries is connected to all of our offices, so no matter what time it is in Moscow or New York, we will always have the quote ready because our other offices are involved in the process,” he says.

The next step for Volga-Dnepr is understanding the equipment’s dimensions if they are non-standard, in order to design and build the frame that will secure it and evenly distribute the load. A team of the firm’s engineering and logistics specialists will often conduct a site visit in order to make a technical assessment, and then will produce a 3D model of the power component and the planned packaging solution.

Depending on the complexity of the job, manufacture of the frame can take from several days to several months.”In the case of the hydro turbine runner it took us around 20 days to prepare the frame,” Zhukov says. “The design was already known to us, so this was just a modernization” of an existing frame. He says the initial frame design was finalized in 2008 when the company undertook its first large transport, and “now we are editing the existing frame”.

The time required to manufacture bespoke frames to secure a piece of cargo for transport and to ensure it can be safely loaded and unloaded is dictated by the complexity of the shipment.Volga-Dnepr advises customers to consult with its engineers at the earliest stage in the planning process, which also ensures that there are no unexpected delays or additional costs incurred later in the project.

Frame design and engineering are carried out at the company’s engineering and logistics centres in Houston, Texas; Ulyanovsk, Russia and Stansted, UK, all of which have a stable of subcontractors which help to produce the end product.

In the example of the hydro turbine runner, the frame had two parts, an upper and a lower casing. These were then connected so that the runner was fixed inside the frame. The frame was transported to the runner’s location and attached by Volga-Dnepr’s engineering staff, and then the entire assemblage was transported to the airplane for loading with 200-tonne external cranes.

“Of the four ways we usually load the cargo into the Antonov-124 aircraft,” Zhukov says,”the easiest way is to use the internal cranes, whose limit is 20 tonnes. For shipments up to this weight, the cranes can facilitate the loading without any extra handling equipment, which is especially important at airports with little on-site equipment. Heavier single-piece cargoes [such as the ramp extension used for the hydro turbine runner] require additional work.” Unloading requires equal care, with the frame – which weighs around 20 tonnes – needing to be detached and disassembled, and then itself transported back to Volga-Dnepr.

The hydro turbine runner would have been “a headache for most of our competitors,” says Zhukov, as it is a single piece weighing around 80-90 tonnes. “Single-piece cargo is extremely heavy and is usually the most difficult to transport.”

“For power and energy companies we usually transport gas turbine rotors on skids or generator rotors, which are usually also very heavy,” he adds. “We have operated flights with the rotors of heavy duty gas turbines, which weighed over 90 tonnes apiece and were more than 10-12 metres long.

“Mobile power plants are of course of great interest to us,” he says, “and Volga-Dnepr is often called upon to carry shipments for manufacturers of ‘power plants on wheels’.” For this technology no special frame is required, and the trailer is allowed to move inside the cargo cabin.

Over the past five years, he says, Volga-Dnepr’s clients have increasingly requested additional services, which have now been centralized with engineering and logistics capabilities under a ‘cargo supermarket’ concept.

“We provide not only airport-to-airport service, but also cover additional questions like customs clearance, documentation and road transport, if needed, from the OEM’s location to the airport or the project site,” says Zhukov. Requests for these services “are made especially when we deal with OEMs directly – for many of them the perfect scenario is ExWorks. In such cases, clients just need a simple contract that begins at the gates of their manufacturing facility.” For this reason, Volga-Dnepr has “basically evolved from a typical airport-to-airport transport company to a sort of turnkey service provider,” Zhukov says.

Loading technologies

Credit: Volga-Dnepr

Ensuring aircraft availability

The size of the global Antonov An-124-100 fleet remains relatively small. Volga-Dnepr operates the biggest An-124-100 fleet with 12 aircraft, and in 2006 it formed a joint venture with Antonov Airlines, the other main operator of the freighter, to jointly market the aircraft to customers globally. Together, under the joint venture identity of Ruslan International, they have been able to improve the availability and reliability of the aircraft to meet the requirements of customers across the globe.

In the same way that Volga-Dnepr has invested to improve the capabilities of its entire fleet, Antonov is doing the same. The Antonov design team was initially, and is still, based in Ukraine, while most of the manufacturing facilities are located in Russia. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines told Power Engineering International that “almost all Antonov aircraft are equipped with engines designed at Ivchenko-Progress SE and Motor Sich JSC in Zaporozhye, Ukraine”.

In July, the firm signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with GE to co-operate on bringing GE technology to Ukraine’s aviation sector, with the potential to deliver engines, airborne systems and services for Antonov aircraft.

These days, the Antonov Company is focused on developing a new generation of light, multi-purpose twin-engine aircraft designed for short- and medium-haul routes, in co-operation with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

The new AN-132 range is expected to be operational later this year. Also in July, the firm signed a MoU with Pratt & Whitney Canada to provide the AN-132 aircraft range with a specially designed version of the PW150A turboprop engine.

Loading a turbine wheel

Credit: Volga-Dnepr

Zhukov says the best advice to customers is to be prepared for any eventuality. He says: “For power generation companies with big and heavy pieces of equipment and customers around the world, it is advisable to have a transportation and logistics plan that can be put into action at short notice. We have a number of customers that consult with us even when they don’t have a specific transport requirement at that time, because they see the value of having a viable process in place that can quickly kick into action when they need to respond to one of their own customers’ requests.

“We expect to see more of these partnerships with power generation customers in the future.”

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