Downpours and thunderstorms are a regular phenomenon in Africa, and usually they come with consequences – sometimes positive, like a good harvest of crops; other times, less pleasant, especially when resulting in destruction of property.
The Metahara Sugar Factory located in the Oromiya Regional State, about 200 kilometers from Addis Ababa, experienced this unpleasant side when the roof of its plant caved in during a thunderstorm, collapsing the power house and damaging some parts of the two steam turbine units to its production lines.
The result: its 136,000 tons of annual sugar production grounded to an abrupt halt in July last year – further exasperating a sugar shortage into a bitter state as the factory’s production continued to be halted for the next five months.
This particular sugar mill accounts for a roughly estimated 20% of the country’s sugar. Its stoppage left many households, hotels and other commercial enterprises without a drop of sugar. (Even in the GE office in Addis Ababa one could not drink a sweet cup of tea or coffee.)
Daniel Hailu, Executive Country Business Leader for GE Global Growth Organization, explained that sugar is a key commodity for Ethiopia, both for local consumption and export.
He said: “It’s extremely important for the country’s foreign currency revenue stream.”
Initial interaction between the customer and GE Power Services’ commercial team followed by further facilitation by Daniel’s in-country team, finally led to an integrated FieldCore team arriving onsite towards the end of November. With very little onsite information to work with given the age of the legacy Alstom pre-owned units, no relevant historical data at hand, and no spare parts of certain essential components on the premises, the challenge to bring the units online was noticeably apparent.
Caesar Okereke – FieldCore’s Service Manager in Nigeria called in to manage the collaborative approach – explained that upon reaching out to the Remote Outage Support Team in Baden, Switzerland, he was informed that the units had last been refurbished in 2014 and that they would present a big challenge to overhaul.
During the process, it was learnt that the turbines had been manufactured by Compagnie Electro Mecanique in Le Bourget, France, dating back between 1956 and 1960, and that the factory subsequently had closed down and all staff relocated to La Courneuve.
“At the time, the Remote Support Team expressed concerns over the timeline proposed for the units’ restoration, given the circumstances,” Caesar said.
“However, the onsite team alongside Daniel’s group accepted the challenge, and we set out with a common purpose. We worked long hours and late into the nights.”
The joint onsite field engineering team comprised a vendor partner with experts having been sourced from India, Croatia, Algeria and the Philippines, as well as Uzomaka Anucha, FieldCore’s lead engineer on the project from Nigeria.
When the teams were faced with unforeseen issues, they’d quickly have to come up with new solutions. Finally, conviction and willpower paid off. What some thought might be beyond reach, and within a record of 20 days, the facility had been repowered and production resumed at “full-steam ahead” speed.
“This is nothing short of a miracle!” exclaimed Mr Fahmi Dawud, Deputy Factory Manager.
“We had lost all hope that these units would ever come online again due to the damage. Hotels and supermarkets had run out of sugar and it was a critical situation. We are indeed excited to hear the machines humming again,” he elated.
“It was a great sense of accomplishment when we saw the first steam after startup. This project not only reflects that nothing is impossible, but it also shows the results that can be achieved when individuals work together as one team with a common goal,” added Caesar.
All (hard) hats off to the commercial team that was involved, Theodore Aka for signing the deal and Hippolyte Aka for partnering with Caesar and the Ethiopia team to get it done, and also to Caesar and his field team, as well as Daniel and his team in Ethiopia for interceding with contract negotiations and especially for invaluable assistance with logistics, tooling requirements and dealing with the country’s customs and excise department.