Breaking off the forbidden zone to pioneer a new path
2019/06/05  Shanghai Electric Group Co.

"Pioneering Spirit" Starts Here

The story can date back to the 1950s. In 1953, Shanghai Electric Machinery (hereinafter referred to as "SEM") developed China's first 6000-kW air-cooled steam turbine generator. Between 1954 and 1957, SEM produced a total of 27 6,000-kW air-cooled turbogenerators and successfully trialled the manufacture of 12,000-kW air-cooled turbogenerator, greatly contributing to the realization of China's first five-year plan. 1958 was the early stage of China's second five-year plan and witnessed the Great Leap Forward campaign and serious power shortage. As required by the national plan, SEM must expand its production capacity and produce more turbogenerators to support China's industrial and agricultural construction.


But how to increase production capacity became a question to be answered. This was by no means achieved by simply scaling up production.

The double water inner cooled turbogenerator is known for the design that both the stator and the rotor windings are made of hollow copper wires and are connected to a water-cooling system. Because water has a higher specific heat and can directly take away the heat, it can improve the efficiency of the generator. This technology was a cutting-edge technology in the world's electric machine industry at that time. Compared with other cooling technologies, this technology can make electric motors with a higher power using the same materials. However, in terms of manufacturing technology, water cooling is more difficult than air cooling, and internal cooling than external cooling. In particular, there was no precedent in the world for applying inner water cooling technology to rotor winding, so this was considered a world-class "forbidden zone".

To solve the problem, technological innovation was the only way. Therefore, SEM began to explore new cooling method for the generator, in a bid to overcome the technical bottleneck.

Lack of experience was the biggest challenge for SEM, as it had not used the turbogenerator manufacturing technology until 4 years ago, and the biggest capacity of the machine it produced was only 12,000 kW. Aiming to support China's industrial and agricultural construction, SEM people determined to break the old patterns of turbogenerator manufacturing in other countries to develop the double water inner cooled turbogenerator.

Meng Qingyuan, who was at his forties then, was SEM's deputy director and chief engineer, and the chief designer of China's first 6000-kW air-cooled turbogenerator. At the beginning of the year, Meng worked with the professors and lecturers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Zhejiang University, as well as the technical personnel in the factory to discuss the feasibility of trial manufacturing. This crossover between the academic theories and factory practices was a bold move at that time. In May, SEM started the product design from the relatively simple inner cooling of the generator's stator.

In early July, SEM received instructions from the Shanghai Municipal Committee that required them to speed up the development of double water inner cooled turbogenerator to ensure that Shanghai could reach an installed capacity of 3.5 million kW in the next year. SEM immediately set up a design team for developing the 12,000-kW double water inner cooled turbogenerator, with Meng Qingyuan acting as the project manager, and Wang Geng as the head of trial manufacturing team. The professors from Zhejiang University also participated in the project.

On July 14, Liu Xiyao, then Deputy Director of the State Science and Technology Commission, met with the team and hoped that they would complete the task in one or two months. After going back to the factory that night, Meng organized the first team meeting.

With no references, precedents and experts available, Meng led the team to work night and day on the project, embarking on the arduous journey by starting with basic research.

The absence of references for many parts made it a struggle for designers to make the drawings, and they have to go to the workshops to consult with the workers. Based on the designers' conception, the workers finally succeeded in making the parts after repeated adjustments.


However, they faced a bigger challenge—water leakage of the rotor. With no experience and technology in this aspect, how could they solve the problem? The only way was exploring the solution through practice. They went to pump, automobile hose, aircraft and machine tool factories to explore how the water pipes on pumps, oil pipes on automobiles and airplanes, and hydraulic drives on machine tools were connected. After over 90 trials and tests of 17 structures, the team finally found a complete solution, and completed the design of the 12,000-kW double water inner cooled turbogenerator in just one month.

After the design stage, how to prevent "leak" in manufacturing posed another problem. "Double water inner cooling" required a high water tightness, which meant that all the connections must be tightly sealed. Otherwise, it would not work at all. This was a significant challenge for SEM, which at that time only had outdated equipment, such as the belt-driven lathe with a lifting capacity of only 50 tons. In addition, the team came across such obstacles as inexperienced workers, and the deficiency of such key materials as iron cores and protective rings due to the embargo by other countries. Led by Meng Qingyuan, the team overcame the obstacles step by step.

Each hollow copper wire used to make the coil was only 4 meters long and had a poor quality due to the obsolete technologies. A coil was only be welded with a dozen hollow copper wires, but because of too many connections, cracks would appear when the coil was bent during processing. In order to tackle the problem, Meng moved to the workshop and worked around the clock. After repeated trials and tests, the water leakage of the coil was finally solved.

Unexpectedly, when the rotor wound with the wire worked on the overspeed test bed, it ejected a fine spray of water. Without leak detection instrument available in the factory, the team members worked with tap-water pipe, valve and machine tool repairmen, and the auto mechanic who was familiar with the hydraulic system, to explore the way to deal with the insufficient leak tightness. They trialled more than 100 parts with different patterns and, through comparative analysis and research, overcame the barrier by making a special sealing element.

On October 27, 1958, the 12,000-kW double water inner cooled turbogenerator, which embodied the 100 days' efforts of the team, successfully passed the test on the assembly test bench right the first time, with its water flow, cooling effect and quality meeting the applicable standards. This is how the world's first double water inner cooled turbogenerator was born in China.

In December of the same year, the large turbogenerator cooling technology conference was held in Leningrad, Soviet Union. When the head of the Chinese delegation announced that China had created 12,000-kW double water inner cooled turbogenerator with a rotational speed of 3,000 rev/min, everyone present was amazed by the news. SEM was the first in the world to manufacture 12,000-kW double water inner cooled turbogenerator with 6000-kW rotation shaft, which was included in the proceedings of the conference. After that, SEM developed 50,000, 125,000, 300,000-kW double water inner cooled turbogenerators. In 1985, SEM won the top award of the first National Prize for Progress in Science and Technology for its double water inner cooled steam turbogenerator.

The Shanghai Generator Works established in 1995 inherited the "Pioneering Spirit" from SEM to increase the generator capacity to 300,000 kW, greatly contributing to the satisfaction of China's rapidly growing demand for power during the reform and opening up period. "I believe that 'Pioneering Spirit' is more important to this era. It means making products that others have never made, being ready to be the first, and having the courage to meet challenges." This is the voice of generations of pioneers.


Persistence and determination always pay off

How can we seek new competitiveness while maintaining the existing advantages? "When we have developed world-class technologies, we can produce innovative products independently, instead of relying on technology import. The most advanced technology could not be obtained by purchasing. It is developed based on practice. The "Pioneering Spirit" is still of great significance in today's innovations and transformation." The words of the Head of the Technology Department of the Shanghai Generator Works revealed the new meaning of the traditional spirit.

At present, the Shanghai Generator Works is deepening reform and accelerating transformation to strive for transformation from a local traditional manufacturer that produces high-carbon energy industry products by relying on imported technologies into an international company that produces low-carbon green energy industry products with independently-developed innovative technologies by focusing on both advanced manufacturing and modern services.


Nowadays, the "Large Turbogenerator Intelligent Factory" project has been included in the pilot demonstration projects of intelligent manufacturing of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Compared with traditional manual processing, intelligent manufacturing can greatly improve product development efficiency and quality, reduce product cost, and increase overall energy efficiency by more than 10%.

"We no longer go ahead without stop. We have started exploring new approaches," The goal is very clear—"Becoming the world's most competitive power generation supplier."

A drop of water is enough to reflect the radiance of the sun. Today, in an era themed around "Innovation", "Pioneering Spirit" is endowed with new meaning by Shanghai Electric. The spirit means the capability of pursuing the trend of technological advancement and industrial transformation, the ability to independently develop innovations and integrate innovative resources, and the ability to put ideas into action. With this spirit, we not only created the world's first double water inner cooled generator, but also achieved a series of important breakthroughs including China's first nuclear power unit, the world's first 1,000MW ultra-supercritical unit with double re-heating cycles, 3.6MW large fan, and large castings and forgings on heavy equipment. These achievements represent the inheritance of the "Pioneering Spirit".