From a steel mill to a power-generation plant or a hotel, business goes on in varying degrees of need. But what if, suddenly, there was no power and every activity needing electricity suddenly came to a screeching halt? These are the kinds of “what if” scenarios that challenge the highly trained and experienced technicians and engineers of Virginia Transformer Corporation (VTC).
“Our company is predominately comprised of technicians and engineers capable of handling a wide range of complex issues for a variety of applications,” says Prabhat K. Jain, president and chief executive officer of the ISO 9001-certified, Roanoke, Va.-based company. VTC manufactures complete lines of power transformers for five major markets – utility, industrial, commercial, transit and specialty companies. “Our transformers offer lower losses and longer life – up to 40 years,” Jain says.
“We offer solutions to our customers’ problems. Our product range, with a broad spectrum of transformer sizes, allows us to offer our customers solutions from one source. That’s why we refer to our company as a one-stop shop,” he adds. For example, a power-generation project might require a larger transformer, up to 300 megavolt amperes (MVA) at the generating station and smaller (only 300 kilovolt amperes [KVA]) auxiliary transformers at service stations. “We can offer that whole package,” says Jain.
VTC manufactures both oil transformers and dry-type transformers for applications involving standard distribution loads, high-impact drive duty or process rectifiers. The company’s oil transformers typically are larger and are available from 300 KVA to 300 MVA in the 230-kilovolt (KV) class. Its dry-type transformers range to 15 MVA only, in the 35 KV class. VTC transformer applications include transmission and distribution substations for voltage regulation; power generation for generator step-up, unit auxiliary, station service, generator excitation and isolation; and motor starting.
The company’s industrial customers include paper, steel, petrochemical, cement and pharmaceutical firms. The commercial market includes hotels, hospitals, airports and office buildings. Utilities such as power-producing and power-distribution companies use VTC transformers. They also power most of the nation’s metropolitan subway and transit systems.
Solutions by Design
When a company comes to VTC with its own brand of problem, it leaves with a custom-designed solution. VTC seems to thrive on challenges and has numerous examples of these designer solutions in its portfolio.
For example, a chemical plant wanted to place a dry-type transformer in one of its facilities because these products are fire-retardant and thus inherently safer. “However, they were concerned that the chemical vapors and fumes in the environment would affect the durability of the transformers,” Jain says of the unique application. “So we came up with a totally enclosed dry-type transformer design for them, which we call the TENV, or totally enclosed non-ventilated transformer.” The largest one of its kind ever built, the TENV was a 5,000 KVA transformer built within a stainless-steel enclosure. Jain says, “We were able to satisfy their needs in terms of the safety of the location of the transformer, their concerns about long life and their concerns about maintenance.”
Designed to work in extreme conditions, VTC transformers are used by Syncrude in western Canada to energize the pumps used in sand and tar slurry. “These transformers operate in minus-50 to minus-60 degrees Celsius, and they work heavy-duty cycles,” explains Jain.
A power company, Santee Cooper in North Carolina, thought it would hang a transformer from the outside of a building at a power-generating dam. “They didn’t want an oil-filled transformer because of their concerns about oil spills contaminating the river. So we built them a special dry-type transformer of 35 KVA about 15 years ago, and we were one of the few companies building such a transformer at that time,” says Jain. The transformer even survived Hurricane Hugo’s fury several years ago. “We are very progressive in technological development,” continues Jain. He also observes that VTC has developed a new electronic, non-contact sensor that can be mounted to a transformer to indicate whether the transformer is on or off. “It’s the first of its kind,” he says.
Certified for Power
VTC’s transformers arrive at customers’ facilities with numerous stamps of approval. Agencies such as the American Bureau of Ships, Underwriters Laboratories and the Canadian Standards Association have all given their certifying nods to VTC products. “We have a large engineering staff and many of our engineers have up to 30 years’ experience in this business,” Jain says. VTC transformers are installed in facilities in 37 countries. “We have an international character and we can provide our customers with products and service very rapidly,” says Jain.
In a business where reliability, durability and quality are absolutely critical in the products it manufactures, VTC recognizes that its transformers must stand up to some serious and unforgiving challenges. “Industrial applications are by far the most diverse for us, and their processes require a great understanding on our part. For example, a steel rolling mill taking billet to produce plate steel requires transformers capable of withstanding tremendous mechanical shocks because of the sudden increases in load,” explains Jain.
Another example of an application requiring unique and special design considerations is public transit. When a train accelerates, it produces a 400 percent overload. Trains also go in either direction, producing enormous stresses on these transformers, notes Jain.
VTC has been supplying power transformers for more than 30 years, initially to the underground mining industry in the nearby Appalachian Mountains. The company began its journey providing custom-designed transformers to fill the need for liquid-filled and dry-type transformers in applications requiring low-profile construction, tough environmental conditions and other non-standard specifications for the mining industry.
After Jain became president and CEO about 20 years ago, VTC expanded its product range to include industrial and commercial power-distribution transformers. The company enjoyed a compounded rate of about 20 percent annual growth throughout those years, and the number of employees jumped from about 30 to about 400. Jain’s extensive engineering background and master of science degree in engineering, coupled with his master of business administration degree, “allows me to have a good handle on both the technical and the business issues facing a growing business like ours,” he says.
The company’s highly experienced engineers continuously develop small tools such as jigs and fixtures to enhance and refine the manufacturing techniques and processes in VTC’s 250,000 square feet of manufacturing facilities in Roanoke, Mexico and India. VTC operates a dedicated training center, where employees learn to build and then unbuild transformers. “We are very particular in meeting our commitments to our customers, and proper training of our employees assures quality for our customers and eliminates major risks on the factory floor,” Jain says. “We are easy to do business with. Our customers can contact us and talk to an engineer to find solutions to their needs.
“We are fast becoming the leader in many applications, including drive-rectifier and transit applications. We are the leaders in dry-type transformers and in the power-generation applications of oil-filled transformers,” he adds. “Through a continuous-improvement process, we drive our costs lower and our quality higher. We are continuously innovating and re-examining our designs and our sources of materials in order to get the best of everything to deliver to our customers top-quality products at lower prices.”