On the photo: Ricardo Suarez, CEO of Prolec GE

Remaining true to honouring our commitments – Interview with Ricardo Suarez, CEO of Prolec GE

USA, New Orleans: Transformers Magazine brings an interview with Ricardo Suarez from Prolec GE, held at IEEE PES T&D Conference and Exposition, which took place in New Orleans, 25-28 April 2022.

In the interview, Transformers Magazine presents Ricardo Suarez, the CEO of Prolec GE, a company dedicated to the transformation and delivery of electrical energy and one of the companies in Xignux, an important conglomerate of Mexican origin, which provides solutions in two large industries: electrical energy and food.

How is it going for Prolec GE at the IEEE T&D Conference? What is your opinion of the activities and venue?

Well, to tell you the truth it is going very well for us. This convention centre is perfect for this type of conference. I believe that having been confined indoors for such a long time due to the pandemic, all companies and people have been eager to be out there in person and to show what they have been doing during the past two years. Of course, none of us has stopped working during the pandemic. The electrical grid is an essential part of our everyday life, so all of us had to do our part to keep the lights on. So, we are all thankful that we can meet each other in person again.

We have seen in the news that Prolec GE has had some recent acquisitions. Can you tell us a bit more about that and any other investments that your company has made?

Yes. First let me clarify that Prolec GE is a joint venture, started more than 25 years ago by a Mexican private conglomerate called Xignux and by General Electric. In 2019, coinciding with the beginning of the pandemic, the stockholders agreed on expanding the JV, incorporating the GE Shreveport, La. site that manufactures network transformers and low voltage regulators. We also incorporated the Canoas, Porto Alegre site in Brazil, which manufactures power transformers and some other specialty power products. Those two entities used to be in 100 % ownership of GE, but now they are owned by the JV. The intention of our shareholders was that all businesses related to the production and manufacture of transformers in the Americas would be handled by the joint venture.

Also, in 2021 we closed the acquisition of Waukesha transformers, formerly owned by SPX. We have kept the name “Waukesha” because of the reputation they have in the North American market as the number one US manufacturer of high-quality power transformers. So, the family has kept on growing during the pandemic period.

 In addition to these acquisitions, has there been any organic investment in the factories or in the company as a whole?

We aim to maintain operational excellence and retain the best talent (human resources) in the industry. We have invested into technology and into our personnel. As you can see in our booth, we are showcasing some of our best offerings.

One of them is VG-100®, which is a soy-based natural ester as an alternative to mineral oil. One of the main differentiators is that this product has zero percent toxic additives, so it is 100 % biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

In addition, this year we are launching the first flexible power transformer in the world that has various voltage levels on the low side and can adjust impedances. In terms of grid resiliency, this will allow utilities to have fewer spare transformers, flexible enough to place them as needed.

We have also incorporated process monitoring technologies, so that customers can remotely monitor Factory Acceptance Tests and make sure that we follow all required standards—as we have always done, without the need to travel to our factory. One additional example of our investment portfolio is the incorporation of a transformer monitoring solution, including life expectancy for power and distribution units.

In terms of markets, we are aware that Prolec GE is present in many countries. However, with the acquisition of the Waukesha brand, what specific plans do you have in the USA?

What I can tell you is that our approach to the market will not significantly change, even though Prolec-GE and now “Prolec GE Waukesha” are two power transformer companies, each focused on different segments. Waukesha focuses more on electric utilities, while Prolec GE on renewables and industrial sectors, EPC’s (engineering, procurement and construction organization). Therefore, we have truly little overlap. However, demand has increased due to grid modernization efforts in the USA. We can now address this increase allocating the needs by product ranges. For example, smaller power units can be manufacture in Goldsboro, NC, the medium power units at Waukesha, WI, and the larger units in Monterrey, NL, Mexico. We can also use the Canoas factory in Brazil to complement the supply of larger units, above 500 MVA, 765 kV, large reactors, or phase shifters. We know that many of the large transformers are now being sourced from overseas, like Europe, Asia, and South America. We now want to offer that flexibility to accommodate much better lead times.

What about the supply chain issues? Every company has been plagued by this phenomenon. What is Prolec GE doing in response to this?

This is a worldwide issue, as we all know. At first, coming out the pandemic, we thought we could go back to normal. However, the combination of economic and political occurrences, with what is happening in the Ukraine and the sanctions on Russia, has placed even more pressure on an already troubled supply chain.

We have put in place a very robust mechanism to assure as minimum disruption as possible. Close communication with all our suppliers, extended visibility, and most importantly, honouring our commitments. If we commit to purchasing any given volume of materials, we strive to meet those volumes so that our suppliers can always trust us and prepare themselves for our future demand. Of course, we have faced issues in the past, but our intention is to evolve our commercial relationships to a strategic partnership level.

Any other message you want to tell our readers?

While we have strengthened our product portfolio with the addition of the Waukesha plants and continue to improve our value proposition as a company, we will remain true to our roots in honouring our commitments with all our stakeholders.