A new spin for a changing market
These are exciting times for Kersten Hahn. Voith’s VECO-Drive has just been unveiled to the market – and Hahn is in charge of product management. For Voith, the new speed controller for oil and gas production, as well as for the power generation industry, is something of a revolution. While the successful Vorecon uses hydrodynamic power transmission, the VECO-Drive, which entered development in Crailsheim in 2014, relies on an electromechanical drive.
Both technologies control the speed of compressors and pumps variably. Put simply, they determine the pressure – and therefore the speed – of oil and gas as they travel through tubes, pipes and pipelines. Hahn, who came to Crailsheim more than ten years ago after earning his doctorate at TU Kaiserslautern, firmly believes that Voith, the world’s only supplier of both technologies, is capable of finding the best individual solution for its customers.
The development of the VECO-Drive did not start with a completely new idea. Instead, it began with the observation that customers’ needs and demands had changed. “The strongest innovation is the one driven by what customers want. In terms of technology, the electromechanical drive was a well-known idea. But we saw how important its features and capabilities were growing in a changing market environment,” says Hahn, describing the idea that sparked the VECO-Drive project in 2014. In his work in business development for the oil, gas and power generation industry, he saw how the market conditions were changing. At the time, the growth cycle in the oil and gas industry was nearing its end. Oversupply, partly the result of shale oil production in North America, was leading to falling commodity prices. Since then, low operating costs have gained importance for customers.
Focus on maximum possible efficiency
“We aligned our development closely with what customers need. As a result, optimum efficiency is the most important factor with the VECO-Drive,” Hahn says. This efficiency helps push operating costs down further, he adds. So it seemed logical to develop an electromechanical drive. “Until then, we had only offered a hydrodynamic drive – in Vorecon,” according to Hahn. Vorecon has been a thorough success in the market for some 30 years and has won customers over with its compact size, durability and reliability of 99.98 percent. That means it takes an average of 48 years for a defect to occur, for long-lasting, reliable use in production without unplanned downtime that can be expensive for customers.
Experts from different corners of the company
“At the start of development, we discussed the advantages of both drive systems openly,” Hahn says. In the end, the team was convinced that customers stood to benefit from the different features. “Both systems complement each other perfectly and strengthen Voith in its position as a service provider that is dedicated to finding the best solution for its customers. We are now the only supplier with a mastery of both technologies.” Based on the customer’s specific requirements, Voith can make a clear recommendation as to whether a hydrodynamic or electromechanical drive is better suited for reflecting the wide range of preferences. This goal motivated the team during the development process and ensured broad support for the project, Hahn recalls.
“When the decision was made to go with the VECO-Drive, we brought in the necessary expertise from the various divisions of the company and accelerated the development process. Everyone felt like developing something new,” Hahn explains. Experts for the needs of the oil and gas industry from Voith Turbo, digital experts and electric powertrain specialists who had worked on developing bus drives formed a common project team. The development team benefited from the experience gained from installing roughly 34,000 variable-speed drives in a wide range of industries. Because of the significant interaction effects involving electrical and mechanical components, as well as the control of the electric engine, the team took an interdisciplinary approach to working together on the various steps of the project. “Our strength lies in cooperation among experts from various areas of expertise. The team quickly grew convinced that we would develop a market-leading product that would meet the high expectations customers have of Voith,” Hahn says. The enthusiastic feedback from the first customer meeting in which the concept was presented confirmed these expectations. “The VECO-Drive allows us to increase efficiency to more than 97 percent, for more efficient control of compressors and pumps than ever before,” says Martin Tilscher, who was involved in the development process.
The work has only just begun
For Hahn, the development process did not end with the presentation of the VECO-Drive. Instead, he says, the work has “only just begun.” The project team will adapt the modular VECO-Drive to individual customer needs and demands based on feedback from the market. The VECO-Drive is highly efficient, which leads to energy savings of more than €100,000, given typical power costs of €50 per MWh. With the new VECO-Drive, Voith has combined the reliability of a mechanical transmission – a familiar concept – with the outstanding productivity of an electric drive. As a result, Kersten Hahn takes an optimistic view of the future: “In cooperation with our customers, we want to find out when high efficiency is crucial and when other factors matter more. The expertise from the wide range of technologies allows us to find the best solution for the respective conditions in any situation.”