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Pump put to the test: a reportage
When a pump needs testing at KSB, it is time for Uwe Baier to put in a night shift. This time round he will be testing a boiler feed pump for a coal-fired power station.
Before things get hectic, Uwe Baier takes a sip from his cola bottle. “This is going to be a long day at work”, he says, rolling up the sleeves of his red jersey. It’s time once again for a pump to be tested. The industrial mechanic has many such tests behind him: the 52-year-old has been with KSB since 1978. Baier is a pump tester – and as such an important person in the company. Putting in a longer shift from time to time isn’t a problem for him. “It means I can have a lie-in tomorrow, plus it is so calm and peaceful here at night,” he says with a glance up into the evening sky. Together with his colleague Ralf Kirsch, he will soon check the pump parameters agreed with the customer. “We look at hydraulic values such as the flow rate and head, and the input power. We also calculate and verify the pump’s efficiency, test the mechanical system and check whether any friction or leaks occur,” explains Baier. In this case, the customer is SEC (Saudi Electric Company). The pump to be tested is a CHTD 6/6 set to be used as a boiler feed pump in a coal-fired power plant in Saudi Arabia. The CHTD 6/6 weighs 13,100 kilogrammes and is 3.22 metres long, 1.69 metres high and 1.49 metres wide. It must be able to withstand temperatures of up to 175 degrees Celsius and pump up to 1,200 cubic metres of water per hour.
Test after test
Just before testing begins, it starts raining. Large drops splatter against the steel sheet façade of the test facility building as its motors hum, buzz and crackle, the smell of oil heavy in the air. The CHTD 6/6 is installed in the middle of the room surrounded by a lifting platform, pallets and shelves stocked with various water pipe fittings, sealing elements, pipes, pressure rings and couplings sorted in boxes. It is now time for the pump to be put to the test. First up: testing the pump in a cold condition at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. Termed the cold test run, this also involves testing vibrations and noise levels. Several small microphones and loudspeakers are set up at a distance of one to two metres from the pump. In addition, wiring is attached to the pump at several points and connected to resistance thermometers and vibration measurement devices. Actually, one might think of a patient in intensive care, but there is one key difference: this is a pump in perfect health.
Electricity to order
Two men critically observe what happens on the 900-square-metre test stand: one inspector from the Japanese manufacturer Hyundai Heavy Industries who are building the coal-fired power plant, and one inspector from the Saudi Arabian power plant operator SEC. Language barriers are not an issue given that the men hail from the German federal states of Hesse and Saarland. They take several photos of the pump: close-ups here, a detail there. Their job is to document the pump’s condition before and after the test run. Meanwhile, Uwe Baier is looking at his watch. “It’s time. The current is available from 8 o’clock in the evening. I ordered it with the municipal utilities three days ago,” he says. Tonight’s pump test requires an incredible 18 megawatts of electricity – almost as much power as used by two and a half ICE trains. “You can’t get that sort of energy out of the plug.” As the sun sets outside, inside the test building the pump is run up and the input power increased.
No risks taken
The pump is now being subjected to a hot test run for about one and a half hours, which means it will be heated to a temperature of 175 degrees Celsius. During the hot run, the test facility is evacuated and the doors are locked. “At this point, nobody is allowed inside. The pump can generate pressures of up to 500 bar and it could also become very loud, for instance if a leak develops. So it is not a risk we are prepared to take,” explains Uwe Baier and returns to the control station. There, he is protected by extra strong glass as he looks down into the test facility hall extending across approx. 10,000 square metres.
The control station is his territory. He has been working here for years – and a lot has changed since he began. “When I sat my final exam in 1982 I had to file a hole punch by hand, now it is rather a computer I have to operate,” he says. Uwe Baier has kept pace with this technical progress, and now he can call the control room his own. His gaze alternates between the wired-up pump located one floor below his office and the four monitors on his desk, their screens overflowing with figures and lights in green, purple and red. The displays show all of the parameters that are being tested, while in the next room the two customer representatives witnessing the acceptance test can monitor the facts and figures on their own screens. The values agreed with KSB can thus be observed and verified.
There is a palpable sense of tension. Will the pump handle the stresses imposed by the test? In such moments you could hear a pin drop. Uwe Baier, however, leans back in his office chair and takes another sip from his cola bottle. Next to him is Ralf Kirsch: an industrial mechanic like Baier who has been employed with KSB for over 31 years. Two KSB engineers and an electrician are also busy in the control station. While the electrician supports Uwe Baier in testing the pump, the two engineers are available to answer questions raised by the customers’ representatives. So far, everything has worked like clockwork. There may be no problems to report, but adrenalin levels are running high for all involved. Except for Uwe Baier, who remains relaxed, apparently able to absorb any stress. The pump is gradually heated up to around 175 degrees Celsius as it processes hundreds of cubic metres of water. This hour-long test is hard – will the CHTD 6/6 be able to cope with the heat and water pressure? Will it be suitable for use as a boiler feed pump? As ever, it looks like the pump will keep all promises made by KSB. In order that the parameters agreed can be precisely checked, Ralf Kirsch takes a log of the test results. All persons involved will soon know whether the test run has been successful. Finally, at midnight, the results are in. Yes, the test run has resulted in a happy end. The pump is in good working order and ready for its destined use. As the tension eases, hands are shaken amid a collective sigh of relief.
Now let it cool down slowly
The test may be over, but there is still work to be done. It is now Uwe Baier’s job to ensure that the pump cools down at around two degrees Celsius per minute. To achieve this, the water required for the test run is routed into a basin next to the test facility building which contains 1,500 cubic metres of water. Here it cools down to 17 degrees Celsius. The process is made possible thanks to the many pipes installed in the test facility’s basement which form a closed water circuit allowing around 35,000 litres of water to be circulated. The test facility’s basement also accommodates the drive unit, the device on which the test pump is mounted, the adjusting equipment, cold/heat exchanger, the cooling water tank and the central oil supply. Uwe Baier’s colleagues will dismantle the pump tomorrow, but first of all it must cool down. A few days later it will be cleaned, painted, packed in crates and prepared for transport by sea to Saudi Arabia. It will arrive there in September this year. But that seems a long way off. His work done, Uwe Baier takes a final sip from his cola bottle and heads home.