Supporting customer Cottam with their biggest ever outage

In September, Cottam Development Centre begins a major technology upgrade to strengthen its position in the UK market. Uniper and Siemens will have had 18 months to prepare for the outage – half the typical time allowed. “We have a positive mindset,” says plant manager Ian Rogers. “We’re not playing for a draw here! We are playing to win together with Siemens.” 

Cottam prepares for the next chapter in its future

Cottam Development Centre is preparing for the biggest outage in its history. Ian Rogers, Uniper plant manager, knows exactly what he wants to see from his team and from Siemens during the 60 days the CCGT station is offline. “Calm. Productive calm,” he says. “And, of course, we must deliver on our promises. Uniper showed great belief in our business by investing in our future. Now we have to live up to that. The outage is everything.”

In the years before signing the contract with Siemens for a major technology upgrade, known as SP7, “the market hasn’t been that friendly, so there’s no margin for error in terms of time, scope or money for this project,” says Mike Rahilly, engineering manager at Uniper. “If we don’t deliver what we promised for this project, it will have far more of an impact than it would have had 10 years ago.”

To ensure the success of the outage – which gets underway in September – an immense amount of work is being put into the planning phase. Dan Beezer, engineering team leader at Uniper, is well aware that a project of this scope would normally be three years in the planning: Cottam has had just 18 months.

“We’ve really needed to pick up the pace,” he says. “We can’t rely on standard processes. We need to be that bit more agile and clever in our thinking.”

He observes how different phases of a project drive different relationships. “During the negotiations, we collaborated very much as one team with Siemens. We were working for a convincing business case, albeit one of us was a supplier and one a customer. We need that same ‘one team’ approach when planning for delivery, and that’s meant quickly building the same strong relationships with the project management, engineering and field service guys in Siemens. That wider team is now really starting to gel.”

As important as it is for Uniper and Siemens to work as one team, so the different businesses within Siemens – primarily, the turbine engineering specialists in Newcastle and those providing the distributed control system, based in Manchester – need to work as one. “Internal communication is a challenge for all big companies,” reflects Mike. “We often find that we’re the common denominator, helping others to work closer together.”

Martin McMenzie, the Siemens project manager for Cottam, appreciates the point. “We need to operate as One Siemens. We’ve presented one plan to Uniper and we need to work in a co-ordinated way. We’re all working within the same turbine hall and we’re dependent on each other. It’s got to be a team approach.”

John Miller, head of Projects at Siemens, is keen to capitalise on best practices from other major outages. “One advantage we have is the detailed planning we did for the SP7 upgrade at Marchwood 18 months ago; we’re not building a plan from first principles. But that certainly doesn’t mean we can be complacent, and at the start of this year we intensified the discussions we’re having with Dan and Mike. We’re using the same style of project management that we used very successfully at Seabank last year to really drive activities forward and maintain momentum.”

Dan sees two main outage challenges. The first is technical. “This is not just a standard major outage. It’s a very complex technology upgrade that also includes the whole distributed control system. We’re introducing completely new systems which have to work with each other and with our existing plant, and that means creating a really robust and detailed commissioning plan for all eventualities. This is more akin to building a new power plant.” Preparing for ‘what if’ scenarios helps him sleep at night. “You always need a Plan B.”

“The hot and cold commissioning is a critical part of the project and a key focus area in our planning,” confirms Martin. “There are many more checks needed than in a standard major outage to ensure we meet or better our performance guarantees, plus we have to schedule in tests where National Grid is present too. That all calls for additional upfront preparation.”

The other big challenge relates to people. “Right from the start of the planning phase we’ve seen the welfare of people as our highest priority,” says Dan. “We don’t want people to work excessive hours. We’ve looked, for example, at how tweaking our plans could mean a 10-hour rather than a 12-hour day, as well as smaller things like how we can improve catering facilities and site parking.”

“Our leadership team is totally committed to people’s wellbeing,” underlines Ian. “We don’t want anyone to be hurt, or to feel highly stressed, and that message must filter through to everyone working on our site. We won’t achieve the productive calm we’re looking for if people feel under constant pressure.”

Dan believes Uniper and Siemens share very similar values when it comes to safety and wellbeing. “Your Zero Harm vehicle is coming to Cottam and you’re planning to deliver the same site safety induction to all subcontractors on the project. That’s the right message from day one.”

As September nears, everyone is aware of the accelerating pace. “Everything’s coming together now and we know we have to continue to build the momentum,” says Mike. “The face-to-face meetings – either here at Cottam or at Siemens sites – are frequent and that really helps to build understanding. When you’re looking to achieve big things, you need that bedrock of big relationships.

“The advance work carried out by the Siemens engineering team during the negotiation period shows the strength of the relationship,” he adds. “It was above and beyond our expectations and took a lot of risk out of the project, plus it got us off to a really good start. Accessing that breadth and depth of OEM expertise and knowledge through every step of the planning phase is just as important.”

“The best outages start very quietly,” says Dan. “They’re almost boring. That’s just what we want: a steady start with no surprises. And if we pay attention to every last detail in the planning, that’s what we’ll have.”

“We all recognise this is a complex outage,” adds Ian, “and part of our job is to set expectations and standards. That can mean challenging people and checking their understanding. It’s also about dialogue and helping them to deliver.

“Whatever problems we might face, we’ll work as one team to find solutions. We have a positive mindset. So let’s go for it! And win for everyone concerned.”