Steel Mill Alarm

What happens when things go wrong.

19 November 2016, The alarm is going off at a steelworks in Pomalaa. It’s late in the afternoon on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. A protective device of the on-load tap-changer has shut down the transformer for safety reasons and production has come to a standstill. Now the clock is ticking. A solution has to be found within one week, otherwise the molten steel will cool down with hugely damaging consequences for the steelworks.

Discover what has happened in these 5 days

An employee at the steelworks picks up the phone and calls Hendra Kurniawan, his contact at MR’s Indonesian subsidiary in Jakarta, where two service technicians work locally.

Because of the time difference, it is currently 8 o’clock on Sunday morning in Germany. Kurniawan from Jakarta reports the problem to his colleagues in Regensburg. Christoph Zieglschmid, Head of Troubleshooting, then consults with Andreas Birk, who is responsible for order processing in the region. The case is immediately given top priority.

First, all available information is checked and analyzed. The customer has provided a checklist, photos, and audio and video files to help with this process. It quickly becomes clear that the damage is too great and the problem needs to be resolved on site.

The tap-changer specialists in Regensburg and Jakarta consult with one another and decide how to proceed. They quickly agree that an experienced engineer from Regensburg will have to rectify the problem on site in order to get production up and running again.

A short time later, engineer Andreas Hartmann, who is a Technical Specialist at MR, is preparing for the task. He works through the material provided by the customer, studies the relevant technical data, and plans his journey. The case containing his safety equipment is always packed and ready. He now puts together the tools he will need for the job. He will request spare parts as necessary, once he has diagnosed the problem on site.

Monday, 10:10 a.m. – takeoff from Munich. His journey takes him via Doha and Jakarta to Makassar, where he is welcomed by his Indonesian colleague Hendra Kurniawan who will act as his interpreter and provide the necessary local knowledge. Together they make their way to Pomalaa at the other end of the island of Sulawesi.

Wednesday morning. To avoid losing any time, the customer picks up the specialists directly from Pomalaa airport so they can be taken to the steelworks as quickly as possible. Everything required for the security check at the state-run steelworks has been prepared in advance by Andreas Birk in Regensburg. Copies of Hartmann’s passport and visa have already been submitted in order to speed up his entry into the works.

In tropical heat conditions, Hartmann starts the initial assessment. He inspects the steelworks and speaks to the person responsible for the system on site as well as the transformer manufacturer’s service technician, who has also traveled to Pomalaa. In cases like this, the transformer manufacturer and MR work hand in hand. He now inspects the transformer and the VACUTAP® VM® on-load tap-changer. The system is still in the same condition as it was when it failed, which is the ideal situation for Hartmann. Like a forensics expert at the scene of a crime, he gathers facts in order to come up with a diagnosis. Every disruption has its own cause and its own characteristics and he has to understand what went wrong before he can initiate the right steps to solve the problem.

The reconstruction shows that, although there is no indication of a malfunction of the on-load tap-changer, it has suffered serious consequential damage as a critical component in the transformer. The scale of the damage quickly becomes clear – the on-load tap-changer cannot be repaired. Although a new tap changer needs to be fitted in the transformer, by the time it arrives the molten steel in the furnace will have solidified. Hartmann therefore needs to find a creative solution in order to save the customer from immense downtime costs.

In a warehouse at the steelworks, Hartmann and the customer dig out a decommissioned tap changer with the same dimensions as the VACUTAP® along with various old parts of another tap changer. Hartmann can use these to improvise. His plan is to prepare the on-load tap-changer so it can conduct electricity and therefore enable the transformer to operate. Admittedly, it will then be in a fixed operating position and tap-change operations will not be possible under load, but at least the steelworks can operate under restricted conditions.


After 10 hours, the makeshift on-load tap-changer is ready for operation. Hartmann documents precisely which parts he has used. He also gives the customer detailed instructions on how to operate the system safely in this state.

The specialist from the transformer manufacturer now prepares to put the transformer into operation. Hartmann can head home.

When the transformer is put into operation, service technician Hendra Kurniawan from Reinhausen Indonesia is on hand to assist the customer with the final steps. After taking a number of measurements, the technician from the transformer manufacturer declares that the transformer is fit for operation. The solution has been implemented in time – the molten steel has not solidified.

24 November 2016, Mission accomplished. Thanks to the efforts of the MR service team, the transformer can be put into operation again. The steel is still molten; the furnace is rumbling and vibrating! Everything is going according to plan. By this time, Andreas Hartmann is already on the way to his next important job. Around six weeks later, once the steelworks has made internal provisions for the changeover, the new tap changer from Regensburg can be installed. The steelworks can now once again use the transformer and on-load tap-changer as normal. With 107 taps, the system enables exceptionally precise voltage regulation.

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