Interview with Prabhat K. Jain, CEO of VTC, at IEEE T&D
USA, New Orleans: Transformers Magazine brings an interview with Prabhat K. Jain, CEO of VTC, from IEEE PES Conference and Exposition taking place in New Orleans.
Mr. Jain, last year, Virginia Transformer celebrated its 50th anniversary and on that occasion, we published your interview where you shared a lot of interesting details about an incredible growth of the company and about development of the industry. We invite our readers to read it here:
What are some of the major changes you have seen during your tenure?
There have been perhaps three major areas that have changed. Of course, we have grown, and we have more customers. Nevertheless, more important changes have been adding of employees, building the engineering function and building the supplier base all over the world. I think that is something that has greatly developed the company, made our dimensions more comprehensive. But the people who have come to work for Virginia Transformer are the main thing–designers, technicians, managers. That is the major change I have seen. The quality of the people that we were able to bring together is what has enabled our growth. The growth is driving the change internally.
How important for your country is to have power transformers manufactured in North America?
The technology that we use in the USA is unique to the USA. So, we want to build a product for the USA with the US technology. That is very important for us as we continue to grow. Another thing is that we want it to be built by the US technicians, with the US material, as much as we can. Not only does it give us security, but it is also important that it is built by the American workers and with American materials.
Please tell us about about the big news on the new plant – P2 that will be opening this year in Chihuahua, Mexico? What led VTC to build this new plant; what type of power transformers will be manufactured at this plant, for which markets, and for what applications?
We conceived the P2 idea about two years ago. The demand for power transformers and distribution transformers is increasing extremely rapidly and on the distribution side, it is being driven by bitcoin, data centers, EV charging, and also just by plain distribution from utilities. So, we were supplying those transformers and we were getting behind, the lead time was getting longer. So, is it going to continue growing? I think it will. I believe that in the next 40 years the demand and supply is going to keep diverging. Therefore, we need to introduce many more transformers and I am doing my part to build the P2, where we will build up to 5,000 transformers per year. This will close the gap by about 30 %, and it is a large gap. The other part of the P2 are power transformers, 200 in a year. These transformers will be used for industrial growth. Our country says, “make it in America.” That means we are going to build more steel plants, paper mills, chemical plants, refineries, all of these things are going to be made at home. To be able to do that, we will need more transformers.
Speaking about lead time, obviously you need more capacity and that is why you are building these plants. But you also emphasize having over 15,000 designs of transformers. How does that help shorten the lead time?
Right now, by the way, we have about 20,000 designs and having all these designs not only helps us to select the right one very fast, but another thing it does is that we have more experience and a bigger knowledge base. We have designed and built so many designs, tested them, so that we have getaways – not only for designs but also for the performance database. That way can come closer to the performance required by the customer, close in on that with very small deviations from the performance the customer wants. Another thing is that the experience level our designers get from designing so many transformers is so versatile and that is what also helps us with our productivity. Our tools have also improved over the years in terms of our programs, integration of programs, and post-processing of the designs. We conduct internal design checking, short-circuit tests, dielectric strength checking, all this is integrated in the design. The large number of designs helps us work faster.
What markets are you covering right? Do you have plans to go into other industries?
We actually cover the whole market right now. However, bitcoin mining is a new industry that emerged about three or four year ago. It really requires a lot of transformers – not only for the computers but also transformers that drive the whole industry. So, that is new. Another novelty is EV-charging, and it is going to be big. However, one really big development is a solid-state transformer, and it is going to be here sooner than we think. My estimate is that in about ten years, distribution transformers will become solid-state. We are working on that. There is also superconducting. It is already available, not actually at room temperature, but the efficiency of the transformer has risen tremendously, for only a small increase in the cost.
Have recent supply chain issues impacted the company’s ability to meet customer schedules?
Yes, the supply chain is a critical thing right now. The labor supply is another issue – we cannot get the material and we cannot get the labor. The way we are handling these challenges is that we have expanded our supply chain into five or six other countries, therefore, we have more sources and more vendors from whom we buy the materials. Of course, we also need many engineers who can do source qualification, quality assurance, etc., so we have hired a many new engineers. We have also increased our stocks of parts and materials, conductors (standard conductor sizes), and components (bushings, arrestors, gauges, and monitoring equipment). But there is a flip side to that because people have been using some standard parts before, standard bushings from certain vendors. This has changed now because this certain vendor cannot provide the part in time. Therefore, we are diligently working with our customers to make them understand that we cannot get that certain brand but that we can get another proven brand and deliver the transformer on time. On the other hand, the labor challenge is very unique in the USA right now and we are resolving it creatively.
What is your future vision? How will you continue to grow the company?
The company will continue its journey on the way to build a perfect transformer, which is two things – a robust design and flawless execution. The flawless execution will be achieved by a trained, technically qualified worker. We already have a robust design, having perfected it over the last forty years. The question is execution, which is the key. That is where I am going to invest my best efforts, to bring the best people to work for Virginia Transformer and assemble our transformers. They understand what a transformer is and how to build it. That is how we are going to maintain the quality. This also involves mechanical design – smooth edges, which leads to lower partial discharge, etc. There is one more element necessary to build a perfect transformer and it is monitoring – moisture content, gases, overtemperature, overloads, short circuits, etc. That way we can predict what is going to happen in a transformer. We also need to change the way we use the transformer, otherwise it will not live its full life. Data analysis is also slowly gaining importance. Our customers prefer to use relays, but we intend to educate them to use monitoring of their transformer’s data to excel the transformer’s performance.
Is that anything you would like end with?
Yes, I would like to mention economy, which is growing very fast. Our power usage will continue to increase due to automation, data processing, EV charging. All these activities are now built into the economic growth of our country. We are bringing the product and manufacturing home. We went global and now we are somewhat retrenching from that to bring the manufacturing back to the USA, because the power demand here will continue growing for many years to come. Even the renewable sector will have to grow a whole lot in order to keep up with the power demand. In all that, manufacturing and supply of transformers and keeping the lead time short poses a challenge. We are maintaining our lead time somewhere from thirty to sixty weeks but is has become challenging with the supply chain and labor supply issues. The new thing is automation. Therefore, we have to become very innovative and start using robots for the assembly of transformers.