Siemens 'ramping up' Tillsonburg production

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Bill Smith is a busy man.

But the Senior Vice President Energy Sector with Siemens Canada was more than happy to make time to talk about a 124-turbine contract with Samsung Renewable Energy Inc. (Samsung) and Pattern Energy Group LP (Pattern) for the supply and commissioning of turbines for the South Kent wind project.

“It’s been a great couple of days,” Smith said via telephone Tuesday afternoon. “What we’ve been working on for three years, has come to fruition.”

The contract is the first said Smith, of what Siemens Canada expects to be many coming forward over the next couple of years.

Great days for Siemens Canada also means great days for Tillsonburg, as the 372 blades for the project will all be constructed at the company’s Tillsonburg plant, the first production facility of its kind in Ontario.

There are currently around 140 employees at the Tillsonburg facility said Smith.

“Blue collar/white collar – some call them green collar because it’s renewable energy.”

Roughly 110 employees are on the plant floor said Smith, with the balance divided between office, supervisory, quality control and engineering roles.

The Samsung contract and anticipation of more means Siemens will be ‘ramping up’ production at the Tillsonburg plant.

“I would guess another 80 (jobs),” said Smith, an estimate which would bring total numbers in Tillsonburg to, or over the 200-employee mark. “And in various parts of Ontario, another 80 or so.”

The initial announcement came Monday as part of a press release indicating Siemens has been awarded a ‘milestone’ 124-turbine order. Towers for the project will be manufactured at CS Wind's facility in Windsor using Ontario-made steel. Combined, said the release, Siemens and CS Wind are expected to create up to 600 jobs in the province associated with the South Kent and subsequent projects.

The 270-MW wind South Kent energy project, located in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent in Southwestern Ontario, will generate enough energy for up to 100,000 Ontario homes. The SWT-2.3-101 turbines to be installed for the project have a maximum power rating of up to 2.3 megawatts (MW) each and a rotor diameter of 101 meters at a hub-height of 99.5 metres.

Tillsonburg currently has one B49 mold in operation, for the creation of the 49-metre blades for the Samsung project. Another mold, the B55 (for the creation of 55-metre blades for alternate projects) is coming, said Smith.

Manufacturing is defined by the molding process, which including ‘packing’ the blade, closing the mold, injecting it and curing the material, takes in excess of 18 hours.

“You are looking at a reasonable production rate of six (per week),” said Smith.

Additional molds or additional employees can alter that rate. The rate of hiring is contingent on the rate of contracts, said Smith. Developers (such as Samsung) are required to advance through a lengthy and complicated approval process.

Depending upon project approval and contract awarding, the company could face an ‘onslaught’ as early as this summer, said Smith.

“And we have to hire a bunch of people, or it could be a steady ramp-up over the next couple of years.”

The initial Siemens Canada job fair attracted 1,700 people and 3,000 applications. Those remain on file, said Smith and have been ‘vetted a time or two.’ Additional applications have also come in.

“We are getting good people by all reports,” he credited. “Enthusiastic and skilled.”

The province’s skilled labour force was one of the attractants for positioning the plant in Ontario, said Smith.

“The talent pool is clearly there, from our perspective.”

Siemens reviewed potential plant sites over a two-year period said Smith, before selecting Tillsonburg for a combination of a facility capable of containing turbine blades, adequate storage and access to highway transportation.

“And relative proximity to where the wind farms are being built.”

Tillsonburg best met the criteria, he continued, ‘falling nicely into the company’s lap.’ Mayor John Lessif and the community were also instrumental in welcoming Siemens to Tillsonburg.

“And advocating on behalf of our investment there.”

Tillsonburg’s mayor is equally thrilled with Monday’s announcement.

“Isn’t it great news?” he responded from his office.

Lessif credited the announcement to the fact Siemens Canada has been ‘hard at work,’ lining up customers.

“This contract is a result of those efforts.”

Job creation at Siemens is only part of the picture, said the mayor, pointing to spinoff benefits for local suppliers.

“It’s very good news for our community and the area,” said Lessif, appreciating the up to 80 projected new jobs. “We can never have enough,” he said, agreeing that Tillsonburg is indeed open for business, a mantra that requires daily diligence among council and staff alike.

“We have to make sure we are doing everything we can every time the opportunity is there.”




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