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NGC Maintains Balance Between Innovation and Stability

Published: 2015-01-26


Source: Wind Energy Issue No. 12, 2014

Innovation or stability? It is a difficult choice for a lot of enterprises, yet NGC chooses to combine them for the purposes of driving the leading trend of the enterprise and retaining the essence of stable traditional mechanical manufacturing industries.

A few years ago, Nanjing High Speed Gear Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as "NGC”), a subsidiary of NGC Gears, deliberately "crashed" the gearbox on a test bench, an act that was so rare in China that it hailed the fame of the Company. Now, it seems that although there is still a lot of curiosity about this act, the Company has already become accustomed to it.

In China's reliability test standards for wind gearboxes, the reliability test time is generally 460 hours, which is of course stipulated for the gearbox under a standard load. Apart from the national standard, if the customer wants to know in advance more information about the true reliability of a gearbox, extra overload testing should be required. For example, with loads of 110% to 200%, the test time may be reduced to a few minutes.

"The design service life of the wind gearbox is usually 20 years. When designing a gear, there is a cycle index and a standard load, and the combination of them should meet the requirements of usage for 20 years. Overloading or overweighting at the early stage for the gearbox would shorten its service life as compare to an equivalent service life." stated Zhang Xianjiang, the manager of wind power business application technology with NGC Gears.

Compared to the overload test, the destructive test of continuously applying a destructive load to the gearbox until “crashing” the gearbox is more extreme.

"The destructive test is designed to make it break, and then to analyze which part breaks, namely, which part is the weak link." A wind gearbox technology expert explained, "In China, reliability design is basically conducted only for the products in a few sectors such as aviation, so overload test and destructive test are rarely done in other areas."

Destructive tests, in fact, require not only the "self-toughness" of the products of NGC in their reliability, but also need the same business ideas and input from the whole company due to the high cost of such tests.

"Currently whole machine manufacturers abroad have been using this test to verify reliability, which is also an opportunity for NGC to prove its products, so we put the test into the normal development process." a technical expert of NGC told the reporter.

The quality of wind gearbox does not just depend on the gearbox manufacturer, but is also related to the requests raised by the whole machine manufacturers. It is owing to the prospective research concepts of a lot of excellent partners at home and abroad that NGC can constantly improve product quality levels through the destructive test.

NGC was formerly known as Nanjing Machine Tool Repair Plant and expanded into a professional gear manufacturer in 1976, restructuring into a limited liability company in 2001, and was listed in Hong Kong in 2007. Ten years ago, the wind power market in China was in its infancy, and whole machine manufacturers at home and abroad also began to speed up their construction of supply chains in China. "Based on keen market insights, 10 years ago NGC management decisively decided to enter the wind gearbox market, and rapidly organized its strong teams in 4 aspects of research and development, production and investment, marketing and customer service, with a strong focus on great investment in research and development, the solid work in quality management, and the meticulous and rapid service mechanism." said Gou Jianhui, the Managing Director and President, NGC Gears.

At that time, China's wind power market was primarily occupied by foreign whole machine manufacturers. The local market was in the stage of promoting local ancillaries for cost reduction. Domestic localization of the whole machine manufacturers was just starting up, looking for the right ancillary supplier. However, it was not easy to find a reliable and competitive gearbox enterprise as an ancillary supplier for either domestic or foreign whole machine manufacturers.

"For domestic whole machine manufacturers, though many enterprises have the ability to produce wind gearboxes, nonetheless few are willing to take it as the future development direction of the enterprise. Moreover, that handful who engage in wind gearbox production are of small scale. It is not easy for Chinese whole machine manufacturers to choose their gearbox suppliers," stated an expert of wind gearboxes.

For overseas whole machine manufacturers, the possibility of developing China's wind gearbox enterprises to meet their supplier qualification standards is even more limited.

Obviously, for NGC which had only entered the wind gearbox market in 2004, distinct market opportunities, active user promotion, and spare-no-effort subjective will of marching into the market played a positive role in its preliminary establishment in the wind gearbox market. NGC then took no detours. In 2004, Goldwind incorporated NGC into its supply chain system, and GE incorporated NGC into its supply chain system in 2005, achieving the plan of long-term cooperation and joint development of products.

In fact, cooperations with international whole set equipment businesses is on of the development traits of NGC: for 10 years, China's equipment manufacturing industry has presented tough challenges to win the trust of customers abroad and even at home. If NGC intended to become a part of the world first-class machinery manufacturers, NGC had to adopt a special market innovation strategy – developing simultaneously at home and abroad, and achieving high-end positioning of products through international cooperation.

As a result, at the beginning of entering into the wind power industry, NGC stepped into a special innovation path: market innovation promoting product innovation, and furthering the innovation of management and technology in turn.

However, in order to impress world famous enterprises, "sentiment" is not enough. NGC only won the trust of international customers through hard work after a series of fairly strict review and assessment procedures, thereby achieving cooperation with international customers with high-quality and low-cost products. Stones from other hills may be used to polish gems, and the full use of the cooperation with the whole machine manufacturers also brought improvements to the management of NGC.

NGC worked with an international partner on LET lean culture transmission cooperation in 2009, for example, and was selected as one of few suppliers for this project from numerous global suppliers. Then, in the MES project cooperation agreement, NGC carried out optimized management of the entire production process from the place of order to the completion of products through information transmission. This helped the Company to accelerate research and development of new products, improve quality, shorten delivery cycle, strengthen production management, and improve services to provide operators and managers with the current state of the plan implementation and tracking as well as all the resources, including people, equipment, materials, customer requirements, finally obtained the goal of comprehensively improving production management. These efforts have laid a solid foundation for NGC to obtain greater competitive advantage in international markets, and also effectively improved the production and management levels of the Company.

It is learned that NGC has successively maintained close upstream and downstream cooperative relations with a number of international first-class enterprises, which has helped it gain a firm foothold in international markets. At present, the export of wind gearbox products from NGC account for 30%, which is rare in the wind power industry.

Although the project cooperation with international whole machine manufacturers enables NGC to conduct quality management and improve product reliability by optimizing management methods, it doesn't mean the wind gearboxes offered by NGC for foreign whole machine manufacturers are any different from the those provided to domestic whole machine manufacturers in terms of quality and reliability.

"Whether it is for domestic or foreign customers, NGC adopts a unified product quality system, a unified platform for research and development, and a unified manufacture standard, resulting in the products made by NGC being of a consistent quality and price at home and abroad." Gou Jianhui stated: "In line with the principles of quality first and customers first, NGC has always emphasized the whole supply chain and life cycle of the product as a management objective, emphasizing maintaining improvements and zero defect management. Through a sound system of supply chain management, the elimination of hidden dangers in raw materials and purchased parts is ensured. By enabling input in research and development, the use of the world's most advanced research and development means better technique and technology, the combination of which offers the perfect product research and development process, and elimination of the potential failure problems through testing."

Therefore, NGC has gradually become an one-stop supplier for a full range of wind turbines transmission equipment with products incorporating a wide variety of models of main gearboxes and yaw & pitch equipment from 750 kw to 6MW.

During the cooperation with many whole machine manufacturers, the technology innovation abilities of NGC have been significantly improved, forming an independent intellectual property rights system in all categories of product platforms.

In fact, because the technology route and unit capacity of wind turbines have been evolved and upgraded, it is difficult for gearbox enterprises to remain unique in terms of technological innovation. By keeping close cooperation with whole machine manufacturers to meet their needs, and with its own forward-looking research and development, NGC has achieved technology innovation.

In could even be said that NGC has even become a master of wind gearbox technology at home and abroad. This can be seen from the fact that NGC products can be found in a lot of domestic characteristic or hot wind power models.

Putting aside onshore wind gearboxes, in terms of large offshore wind main gearboxes, NGC has developed 3 MW, 3.6 MW and 5 MW and 6 MW models since 2010. Among them, 6 MW gearboxes have reached international levels in terms of weight, volume and comprehensive performance through strict type overload testing and over-speed experimentation.

"By close cooperation with domestic and international leading customers, NGC always seizes upon the latest industry technology and market demand with products especially adapted to different application environments, such as plateaus, high and low temperatures, low wind speeds, and intertidal regions, always ensuring the needs of various customers are met. Excellent and stable quality and efficiency have won the trust of customers." Gou Jianhui stated.

So far, NGC has undertaken a number of projects for major science and technology support programs under the "Eleventh Five-Year Plan", "Twelfth Five-Year Plan" and national 863 and 963 projects. The Company has gained hundreds of technical innovation certificates issued by national and local governments and research institutions and has likewise obtained more than 300 national patents.

The market innovation, management innovation and technological innovation of NGC do not imply it is abandoning the stability of traditional mechanical manufacturing industries. NGC is committed to always putting quality and reliability first.

As a key component of wind turbines, mass recalls for replacement of wind gearboxes at home and abroad are not rare. Due to the difficulty in transportation and hoisting, bankruptcies of enterprises as a result of the all-time high cost are also not rare. The reliability and quality control of wind gearboxes are just as important as life-span for NGC, which deeply cultivates abilities within the wind power market and has about 70% of the total revenue in wind power business.

"Through the accumulation of so many kinds of products, NGC constantly carries out optimization and review, ensuring our product quality and reliability win market recognition," stated a technical expert in NGC.

To this, a wind gearbox expert interviewed by Wind Energy also noted: "some well-known enterprises in the wind gearbox industry also made some mistakes. It is believed if NGC had not done a good job in terms of reliability and quality control, it would not be where it is today, and nor would it have obtained such major market recognition."

In terms of its product reliability and quality control with its wind gearboxes, NGC has in fact adopted several measures.

First of all, a more reliable technical route has been implemented. The achievement of the optimal combination of design technology and manufacturing technology, combined with the accumulation of experience formed in the concepts of careful and rigorous work, come together to ensure high product reliability.

Second, NGC pays great attention to the test capability building in order to improve product reliability,

The NGC base located in Jiangning, Nanjing is specialized in the production of wind gearboxes, and its testing equipment comes from international first-class suppliers. It has a "Key Laboratory of Wind Power Gear Transmission System of the Mechanical Industry" that is equipped with main gearbox test benches and pitch gearbox & yaw drive test benches, being able to test a wide variety of main gearboxes and pitch gearboxes & yaw drives from 1.5 MW to 7 MW. These facilities not only help ensure that the quality of each main gearbox can meet requirement after coming off the line, but also can allow for research and development of new products on the test bench.

"Test link is an essential component of the process of the development of new products. Each gearbox must pass through the inspection test process on the test bench prior to leaving the factory. Customers likewise feel reassured after knowing that the product is delivered only following a strict test procedure," Gou Jianhui told this journal in the previous interview.

In addition, NGC has also adopted advanced equipment to improve product processing precision.

For example, the design process is based on optimized computation of the most advanced design software, with world-class gear processing equipment and heat treatment equipment such as that from Germany large gear grinding machines with a 6-meter grinding diameter, spiral bevel gear machining equipment with 2-meter processing diameter, and carburizing furnaces with 4-meter diameter for heat treatment.

At the same time, NGC uses its unique technology and experience to continuously improve manufacturing technology, and has reached world-advanced level, laying a hardware foundation for production precision and product assembly accuracy.

It is hard for machinery manufacturing enterprises to innovate, but NGC succeeded in doing so. It is even harder for machinery manufacturers to hold to the tradition while innovating, but NGC also succeeded in doing so. According to the data of a third-party research firm, NGC controls more than 60% of the domestic wind gearbox market, and has become a leader who holds more than 20% of the global wind gearbox market. There are currently more than 30,000 wind gearboxes manufactured by the company in operation around the world.

"NGC positions itself as a globally operated gearbox and power transmission solutions expert and continues to achieve development rates higher than that of market averages, making us an industry leader." Gou Jianhui emphasized when summarizing the development route of NGC, "This goal will be achieved by prospective market strategy, continuous investment into innovation, advanced manufacturing technology, zero defect management concepts, high investments into human capital, and development of a positive corporate culture."(By Zhao Liang and Xue Chen)

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