GE has more than 7,000 gas turbines installed in countries all around the world that generate much of their power. But that global footprint also requires a complex maintenance system to help customers keep those turbines online.
That’s why, in 2019, GE announced plans to invest $60 million in its Global Repair Solutions Singapore Center (GRSS). Now it has built a new repair, engineering and development facility at GRSS called the Advanced Manufacturing and Repair Technology (AMRT) center, which allows customers in the Asia-Pacific region to slash repair times by sending their equipment to Singapore instead of shipping it halfway around the world.
This November, AMRT completed its first repairs — on a set of near-flow-path seals, which help regulate the cooling process inside an HA gas turbine. While the repair itself was relatively straightforward, it represented a big milestone: After two years of intensive preparation, the center is now online and helping customers to keep the lights on in a way that has less environmental impact.
“It’s not just the repair,” says Bret Barron, GE’s general manager of advanced manufacturing and repair technology. “It’s the culmination of two years’ worth of planning, getting old equipment out of Singapore, transforming the site, building this new R&D center, attracting and training new talent, getting new processes qualified and documenting new methods. All of this work has come together.”
GE’s cooperation with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) was instrumental in getting the project completed. “We wouldn’t be nearly as far along without their support,” Barron says, citing two repair processes AMRT can perform that were not previously available in the region: laser ablation, which removes worn-out parts with a high-intensity laser beam, and fluoride ion cleaning, which cleans out the corrosive oxides that naturally build up in the turbines’ engines over time.
“There’s a lot of new tech that’s making its way to this first repair,” Barron says. “The cooperation has given us a whole new workspace in which to develop repair solutions.”
Indeed, one of the first solutions the AMRT team pursued was streamlining their system. With the help of one of GE’s lean experts, they broke down their repair process to determine how parts should flow through the center more efficiently.
One example: The blades inside an HA gas turbine correspond to the four stages of the turbine’s hot gas path, and GRSS previously had four separate repair lines, one for each stage. Now, after mapping the value stream and using lean principles to cut waste out of the process — that is, any activity that does not add value — all four stages will be repaired on the same line. "It will help us maximize asset utilization and allow parts to flow through the plant the way they should,” Barron says.
AMRT is an integral part of GE’s broader ambition to make electricity more globally accessible. As of 2019, when GE announced the AMRT development project, more than 50 million people in Asia lacked access to electricity. Given the well-established link between electricity access and economic development, providing affordable energy solutions is crucial for helping developing regions remain competitive in the modern economic climate. With the added pressures of climate change, those energy solutions must also be more sustainable. While the percentage of renewables in the global energy mix is steadily rising, natural gas remains key to the journey towards decarbonization.
“There’s no question that we need more renewable energy to heal our planet,” Barron says. “But the renewables that exist today can’t do it alone. Taking the world from coal to gas can cause more than a 50%-60% reduction in CO2 emissions. Especially in dense metropolitan areas, renewable tech isn’t always a great fit with the growth rates we see. Gas technologies play an incredibly important role.”
So do HA gas turbines. The “H” in HA stands for high-efficiency, the “A” for air-cooled. GE has two versions of the turbine: the 7HA, which operates at 60 hertz in countries like the U.S., Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan, and the 9HA, for 50-hertz grids in places like Europe, China and India. Both the 9HA and the 7HA have set efficiency records for raising the proportion of each cubic foot of natural gas that gets converted into energy. In 2014, the HA turbines cracked the 60% mark, once viewed as a feat akin to breaking the sound barrier or running a four-minute mile.
As the site continues to develop, GE looks forward to setting new efficiency standards and deepening its relationship with Singapore. The AMRT team has already added many roles to handle the complex HA turbine repairs, and the overall site represents a workforce of 350 employees. Over the next two years, GE expects to add more jobs and expand the site workforce.
Says Barron: "This site, with its development center and engineering know-how, gives us another avenue to develop repairs for next-gen solutions.”
Pictured at top: GE 's HA gas turbine. Image credit: GE Gas Power.