ENTERING a £4.5m engineering centre, it is somewhat difficult to grasp the amount of history, experience and expertise that makes up a modern service centre such as Sulzer’s Middlesbrough base.

Opened two years ago by Princess Anne, the service centre is perfectly positioned to deliver precision engineering services to the surrounding area, as well as farther afield.

The investment by Sulzer demonstrated its belief in the local engineering skills, as well as the continued prosperity of the various industries in the area.

Loading article content

The North-East has long been one of the industrial heartlands of the country, and with that comes the need for maintenance and repair centres, a role that Sulzer has fulfilled across the world.

Paul Richardson, service centre manager, explains some of the history.

He said: “This business has grown from a local engineering firm that was bought by Dowding & Mills in the 1940s to become part of a national provider of engineering solutions.

“In 2010, the company was acquired by Sulzer and is now an important element of a group that provides worldwide maintenance and repair services.

“Throughout the transition process, the experience and expertise of the staff have been retained, with many of the 32 engineers at the Middlesbrough site having between 30 and 40 years’ service for the company.

“Equally, Sulzer is keen to ensure this expertise is not lost as people retire and so it also invests in training new apprentices who learn how to use the latest equipment but also acquire many of the skills learnt from our experienced team of engineers.”

Mr Richardson himself joined the service centre in August 2016, bringing with him extensive engineering knowledge.

He began his technical training at Stockton and Billingham Technical College before becoming a technical supervisor for a project in Oslo at the age of 21.

His career then took him to the oil and gas sector, working all over the world, including Kazakhstan and latterly in Basra, Iraq, where he was a manager of a Sulzer base specialising in the oil and gas industry.

The workshop team is headed by Kevin Hardy, who has worked in power stations all over the world, including Nigeria and the Philippines.

Another highly-experienced engineer is Stuart Gibson, who started with the company 43 years ago as an apprentice.

An expert in rewinding motors and generators, Mr Gibson has been involved in a diverse range of projects from power stations to sugar refineries.

The supervisory team is rounded off by Jeff Richardson, who began work with the company in 1978 as an apprentice.

He now plays a major role in developing customer relationships and procuring high-quality components for customers.

Complementing the timeserved engineers are the latest group of apprentices, Josh Ferguson, Harvey Timney, Sam Rawden and Matthew McDolley, who are learning the many and varied aspects of engineering support.

They spend time in the workshop and on site to enable them to understand the needs of the customer and how best to deliver that support.

At the moment, they are working independently on site in a quarry, repairing and maintaining equipment vital to productivity.

Sulzer provides maintenance for all types of equipment including motors, generators, pumps, gas and steam turbines as well as mechanical systems and gearboxes.

It delivers these services across the world, combining service centres with experienced field service teams.

Mr Richardson said: “Our aim is to improve reliability and minimise downtime for all of our customers.

“Clearly, prevention is better than cure, so working with customers to monitor equipment and deliver planned maintenance is essential for improving productivity.

“However, in the event of an unexpected breakdown, we have the ability and resources to resolve the situation and return vital equipment to service quickly and efficiently.”

The actual repair process often requires worn or damaged parts to be rebuilt, especially when spare parts are no longer available, due to the machine’s long service life.

Items, such as rotor shafts, can be restored very cost effectively using the metal spray booth, which can rebuild worn surfaces and apply hard coatings to improve durability.

“A great deal of the equipment used by our customers today was originally built decades ago”, said Mr Richardson.

“This means spare parts may be very difficult to find, even if the original manufacturer is still operating today.

“More often, we have to reverse engineer new components, using just the worn or damaged part for reference.

“Fortunately, the facilities and expertise within Sulzer allow us to create costeffective solutions that will often benefit from new technology and materials that were not available when the machines were first built.”

In many cases, speed is of the essence and a repair may result in a quicker solution that can maintain operational efficiency rather than trying to find a replacement, as illustrated by a recent project involving the complete refurbishment of a high voltage transformer.

Redcar Bulk Terminal (RBT) is a long-standing customer of Sulzer’s that owns and operates Redcar Port, situated on the River Tees.

It is the deepest port on the east coast of the UK and operates all-year-round, with a significant reliance on electrical power to maintain fficient operation.

Over the years, the partnership between RBT and Sulzer has flourished thanks to the many projects that have been completed.

So, when a transformer failed due to a primary winding shorting to earth, the first call was to Sulzer so the problem could be investigated and resolved at the earliest opportunity.

Ordinarily, the quickest, if not the cheapest, repair is a direct replacement but unfortunately transformers are not always available on short lead times.

In this particular situation the most efficient resolution was a complete refurbishment that would effectively deliver a virtually new transformer back to RBT.

Clearly, speed of repair was crucial, especially when the client has to hire large generators to keep the plant operating while the transformer is away from site.

The engineering expertise within Sulzer has also been used in support of another business in the North-East – Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), based in Wallsend, near Newcastle.

As the world’s leading independent designer and manufacturer of work class remotely-operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) used in subsea engineering, SMD has taken advantage of Sulzer’s knowledge and expertise for several years.

This partnership has also grown as Sulzer has proven its ability to deliver projects and components cost effectively and on time.

The Middlesbrough Service Centre is responsible for the assembly and testing of hydraulic power units (HPUs) that are used to power a range of tools and equipment working in depths of up to 2,500 metres.

This arrangement has now expanded to include the procurement of the components, which has allowed SMD to focus on new product development and leave Sulzer to deliver each HPU on a date that fits the build schedule of the current ROV.

Mr Richardson added: “Projects such as this require us to remain flexible, in order to meet our customer’s build schedule.

“At the same time, we need to accommodate planned maintenance work as well as emergency repairs in order to help keep the wheels of industry in the North-East turning.”