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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Siemens rep discusses future of Hutchinson plant

April 6, 2011

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— Although Siemens Energy has unveiled a new product that likely will replace the product currently being made at its 4-month-old plant in Hutchinson, a company official said Kansas officials shouldn't worry about the plant's future.

When Siemens gets sufficient orders for the latest technology for wind turbines, the product will also mostly likely be produced in Hutchinson, Kevin Hazel, vice president of supply chain management for Siemens Wind Power Americas division, said while visiting Hutchinson on Tuesday.

The Hutchinson plant, which officially opened Dec. 3, currently produces 2.3-megawatt wind turbine nacelles, the housings that include the generator, transformer and gearbox for wind turbines. The first order for those nacelles is scheduled to be shipped on April 21. So far, the plant has produced 32 of the turbines.

Siemens has also received several large orders for its 3.0 megawatt "direct drive" turbines and production of those nacelles should begin in Hutchinson around August, The Hutchinson News reported Wednesday.

Last month, the company unveiled a new 2.3 direct drive nacelle that eliminates the need for a gearbox and removes about half the machine's moving parts, Hazel said.

"The advantage of eliminating the gearbox is like taking the transmission out of car," Hazel said. "If the car could run without it, from a reliability standpoint, it's a big advantage. It's also more efficient."

Production of the new nacelles could begin in Hutchinson near the end of 2012, he said. The assembly process at least for the 3.0 megawatt nacelle should require the same number of employees, Siemens spokeswoman Monika Wood said.

It's unclear how the new technology could eventually impact employment in Hutchinson, Hazel said, but the company remains committed to its goal of employing 400 people at the plant.

As of Tuesday, 191 people worked at the plant. The company hopes to be up to 271 people by September and full employment by the middle of next year, he said.

"Production is subject to the orders that drive it," Hazel said. "We can't be producing at 100 percent until we have the orders to drive that. We don't want to hire people who are waiting for something to do. We build on demand. The demand is nicely developing, but we've got to keep those two things in line, the forecast and hiring."

He also noted the overall growth of Siemens' renewable energy sector. In 2008, Siemens wind energy focus was on 15 countries but it currently it has 500 bids out in more than 50 countries.

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