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After the flood

24 June 2021

When recent flooding in North Macedonia threatened the country’s supply of electricity, the company tasked with draining the mine, Simtech Solution, turned to WEG, the global motor and drive manufacturer, for support at a critical time

AMONG THE consequences of this natural disaster, which struck in August 2020, was the flooding of a coal mine beneath a thermal power plant managed by the state company ESM-North Macedonia.

More than 300,000 cubic metres of water had flooded the lower parts of the mine, effectively disabling all of its working operations. This had major ramifications, as ESM’s thermal power plant is an integral part of North Macedonia’s energy system. It supplies three-times 265 megawatts of power, generating 70 per cent of the country’s overall power requirements.

The mine had to be drained, quickly and effectively. Extra pressure was added by the coming winter season, as North Macedonians’ lives and wellbeing would depend on the plant’s ability to produce electricity from its processed coal.

With such high stakes, ESM turned to its trusted supplier and partner of more than 10 years, Simtech Solution, which specialises in devising automation and SCADA systems, and power distribution and management for environments including industrial automation, water treatment and more.

Heavy duty pumps

Even with its own years of experience, a natural disaster was a first for Simtech Solution. As Igor Novevski, projects & business development at Simtech explains: “There were several obstacles that had to be overcome if we were going to succeed.

“We only had a couple of days for project planning to devise the technical solution and three weeks to execute the entire project,” added Novevski. “So, there was a very high pressure to complete the draining project on-time and a need for a quick response from all our project partners.”

This included the supply of several heavy-duty pumps sourced to pump all the sludge from the mine. Three 110 kilowatt (kW) pumps, by Tsurumi of Japan, and three 90 kW pumps, by Dragflow of Italy, were delivered by TETRA DOOEL Bitola North Macedonia, the official local distributor for both types of pump. All were supplied with electrical equipment, but something else was needed: an effective start-stop control system.

Soft-starters would be essential for the fast, safe and reliable use of these pump motors — especially in a project as time-critical as the ESM plant drainage project.

The soft approach

For this, Simtech Solution turned to its own trusted partner, WEG. Simtech Solution is an official distributor for WEG in North Macedonia.

“We have been working with WEG for many years now,” says Novevski. “WEG International Trade, Austria has provided all kinds of equipment from its large stock in Germany. That was among the biggest reasons to go with WEG, their stock and quick response. They’re especially supportive in choosing systems that fit our technical requirements — we knew we could place our trust in WEG for this high-stakes project.”

Simtech Solution already had experience of WEG’s SSW06 Series Soft-Starter, designed to accelerate, decelerate and protect three phase induction motors. This time, it opted for the SSW900 soft-starter from WEG for its advanced performance capabilities.

The SSW900 is designed for energy savings, embedded protection and extended durability of electric motors. The equipment is fitted with a built-in bypass, which contributes to extending the starter lifetime, optimising the electrical installation and reducing heat dissipation.

Simtech Solution also opted for the SSW900 for its fault history and diagnosis capabilities, troubleshooting with date and time, and network communication interface. The SSW900s’ compatibility with digital systems and human machine interfaces (HMIs) was also useful in light of ESM’s requirement to integrate several PT100 thermal protection probes during the project.
Even with the right systems in place, there was another major challenge that the project would have to overcome: COVID-19.

Long-distance working

How would it be possible to relay the technological knowledge on how best to implement and install the SSW900 soft-starters when travel and face-to-face meeting opportunities were so limited? Whereas WEG’s training would normally be held at its facilities in Germany, this time, it turned to online training organised by WEG International Trade, Austria.

“We’ve got colleagues in Brazil that are specialists in automation,” explained Kamil Rygiel, sales account manager at WEG. “Every single training session was led by them, accompanied by regular remote communication throughout the project.”

This regular contact for different issues and topics throughout the project helped guarantee a smooth installation, helped further by Simtech Solution’s prior experiences with WEG’s SSW06 Series Soft-Starter.

Novevski adds, “Let me express my gratitude to WEG in such difficult conditions, it was able to organise the training at the start of the project. The distance and situation were not a problem to successfully finish the training, and we are very grateful because of that.”

Despite the challenges of a short time frame and the ongoing pandemic, the drainage project was completed in record time, and the technical solution was delivered to the end client. But what improvements should come next for ESM?

More automation

“We have a plan to integrate SCADA into the ESM plant’s enterprise resource planning system (ERP),” explains Novevski. “Now, the client is more convinced having seen WEG’s solutions in action. WEG was already a well-known supplier of electric motors and is already starting to be known as a worldwide company that offers solutions for automation systems too.”

Rygiel of WEG agrees, “With the increasing capabilities of our automation equipment, like the SSW900, WEG is seeing more opportunities in the European market.”

Not only was the ESM plant drainage project delivered on-time, it has also underlined the further SCADA advantages of WEG’s soft-starters in response to this natural disaster. In this case, ESM-North Macedonia’s plant had a chance to re-examine its previous systems and make positive changes.