Shining investment

November 1, 2018

Siemens in Newcastle is set to help keep the UK illuminated thanks to a £4 million vacuum chamber

Many people in the North East have heard of the Siemens CA Parsons site on Shields Road. The Parsons Works dates back to the late 1800s. Although the  site has reduced in its footprint over the last few decades, the business – owned by global company Siemens since 1997 – is very much looking to the future with a £4 million investment that will ultimately help its customers keep the country’s lights on.

Frequent visitors to Shields Road in Newcastle may be familiar with the vacuum chamber, a piece of machinery that dominates the northern side of the Siemens CA Parsons site and is visible to anyone passing the road. From the outside, passers-by will see a large vacuum chamber sign, a heavyweight steel door and layers of industrial concrete. This machinery is large but seemingly unremarkable. However, inside, the reality is this highly-technical piece of machinery is supporting Siemens’ energy customers around the world by servicing a range of power station equipment, making sure it is fit for operation.

First built in the late 1950s, at the peak of the famous Parsons Steam Turbine business, the vacuum chamber was a feat of engineering. This advanced piece of equipment tests turbine rotors, effectively assessing features such as balancing and overspeed and giving power plant operators the confidence their machinery is in good working order.

One of only two vacuum chambers in the UK, the Siemens machine is used to test turbines that weigh up to 120 tonnes, spinning them at up to 3750 revolutions per minute in a vacuumed environment, which removes any air resistance. This equates to the tip of the blades moving at speeds of more than 1700 miles per hour – more than twice the speed of sound.

After more than 50 impressive years of service, it’s time to give the vacuum chamber a well- deserved modernisation. With work due to begin in April 2019, the £4 million investment will include installation of digitalised technology and newly-engineered upgrades to enhance its performance and capability. It is these attributes, alongside the chamber’s diagnostic capability, that will help customers become more efficient, saving them both time and money in the long run.

Darren Davidson, managing director of the Siemens Newcastle site, says: “The vacuum chamber was installed at the Shields Road site in the late 1950s and was mainly used on coal-fired power station equipment for who were then Parsons customers. It was an impressive piece of kit back then and remains so today.

“The rotors and turbines are tested at phenomenal speeds so the vacuum chamber has to be surrounded by layers and layers of reinforced concrete to protect the surrounding area.

“The upgrade is fantastic news; it’s a huge investment in this site and is testament to the skilled work that the team do here. As well as upgrading the machinery, it’s also given the team who work in this area the opportunity to further develop their skills and training.”

Nigel Presley, machine dynamics manager, leads the team that balances and tests steam and gas turbine rotors, compressor rotors, generator rotors and exciter rotors. The vacuum chamber is one of the team’s main assets.

Nigel explains: “The vacuum chamber upgrade will bring with it greater acceleration, which will mean we can pass through resonant frequencies in the minimum time, which reduces the strain on the machines. The upgrade will also allow us to balance and overspeed a wider range of rotors. Better speed control will mean we can balance smaller industrial rotors, while the increased power of 6MW will allow the running of larger turbine rotors – up to 12.5m2 – at much greater acceleration rates.”

The new-look vacuum chamber equipment will be fitted with the latest Siemens digital technology; this includes a drive system, gear box, switch gear, transformer and condition monitoring system.

Nigel adds: “The Siemens condition monitoring and remote diagnostics package will be installed into the vacuum chamber; this means that we’re able to continuously monitor the performance of the new drive system. That’s a huge benefit because it means we can schedule preventative maintenance and minimise any machine downtime. Our customers depend on these capabilities and this latest investment means we can offer them an enhanced customer service that protects them well into the future.”

Darren concludes: “This site has been on Shields Road for over 100 years and we are still very much committed to a future here. We are investing in new, advanced digital technology to help our customers improve their operations and to support the needs of the ever-changing energy market.

“I’m sure many people have heard of this site but I bet not many people know what we actually do. We’re helping our customers provide efficient and reliable energy, which ultimately keeps the lights on across the UK – from right here in the heart of Newcastle!”

Photo: Nigel Presley