The last 20 years the Russian society has suffered from the brain drain. To learn how a focus on self-actualization can keep promising young people from going abroad, we talked to Vladimir Astafiyev, Director of the Scientific and Production Department of JSC «NPO VEI Electro Insulation» who told us about own experience.
- Vladimir, where and how did you spend your childhood?
I was born in 1986 in a small town of Alexandrov in the Vladimir region. This is kind of unlucky science city located at the 101 kilometer. My father is a PhD and my mother holds two degrees - patent engineer and chemical engineer. After English specialized school, I entered the Moscow Power Engineering Institute, Physics and Electrical Engineering Department, by specialty «Cable Technology». I had interest to energy from my childhood. I always thought that it is the only industry stable for ever, no matter what direction Russia and the rest of the world would select.
Actually, I have to say that Alexandrov is not the best city at all. Many innovative centers (before they were called researching) were located here including Russian Research Institute of Mineral Raw Synthesis, Semiconductor Plant, a television factory «Record». For such a small town with a population of 70,000 people –it’s quite a large number of high-tech industries. But in 91-92 everything collapsed.
I really wanted to go out of there. I knew that a chance to escape can be provided with the quality education, and it was one of the main incentives for me.
I passed the entrance exams at the Institute with an idée fixe – right after graduation to get into a big company like «General Electric» or «Siemens» – known to everyone and to move abroad. That is to obtain knowledge here and implement it over there.
- Did you start working at the institute?
I always wanted to work, so I started my career early enough. But the work by my specialty appeared in the fourth year, and it would be stupid not to use a chance. So in 2007 I occurred at the Russian Electrotechnical Institute. The main activity was the repair of big electrical machinery and research work on the new electric insulating materials and systems.
- Did you remember your first project?
We were manufacturing an inductor coil for a smelter at «ZIL» plant. It was directly the manual work - coil winding. Two young professionals - me and Alexander Timofeyev, we are still working together. We had a small division - 5 or 6 people, the most were above 50 years old. Our work was planned to be ancillary under the master’s supervision. But one master got sick, and the other went on vacation, and we had to deal independently with the technology and the machine. A strange sketch. The machine seen for the first time ever. Unfamiliar production. And no one to consult.
But we both managed and wrapped several coils for a month. They still operate, melt metal at «ZIL».
Right after «ZIL» I was offered to go for a business trip to Surgut GRES-1 - to repair TVV-200 turbine generator. In fact, my interest in turbo generators started since that trip when I understood my specialty, and how I can apply this knowledge.
Then we won the tender for repair of TVS-30 turbine generator at Sarov TPS and it was carried out under my supervision. I was in charge for the project – I was fully responsible for economy, technology, logistics, and partially human resources. I invited several young professionals with no sufficient experience, including Kudinov Konstantin, who is now my deputy. And even me, I was just 22 years old. I was not experienced in leading at all- just intuition, experience in similar works and the help of Valery Ivanovich Shatalov - chief engineer with a wide experience in turbogenerator repair, we are now friends with him.
The job was done ahead of schedule for a month, Nizhny Novgorod Region Administration and TPS Management expressed their thankfulness to us.
- How did you manage to complete ahead of schedule?
It sounds strange, but the matter was in the right job organization. Everybody was always involved in works, and certain works were done in parallel. In addition the personal motivation of all staff and no supply and instrument problems. We arranged supply ourselves.
The project lasted for 5 months. Three months were devoted to preparation, negotiation, discussion, etc. The work took two months.
When we arrived there, I faced a big problem - personal relationship with the staff. They used to think that a head supposed to be an older person with great experience. Of course, troubles and deviations started from the beginning ... In a week I fired two employees with no paying, and then all was arranged.
There was a conflict situation at the station – with the chief engineer. He expressed doubts about my professionalism and education. But when we completed the repair, he retracted his words, thanked and invited to the future repairs.
- What projects are you now involved into and what is your role?
In 2010 we started a campaign on innovative project preparation. We decided to produce spare parts and windings for turbine generators, and currently we are implementing it with «IED-Holding», the Republic of Tatarstan. The equipment is already running at the manufacture, contracts with Western partners are signed, facilities are being prepared.
In parallel, I’m leading the development work to create a gas insulated line (GIL) at 500 kV for the FNC. We successfully defended two phases and now we are working over a sample production. For execution of this work a good professional team of specialists from VEI, MEI and other scientific organizations was created.
Also, I am taking part in the development of factory-assembled switch-gear components for 110-220 kV. A new division was set up at VEI to manufacture components.
- In spite of your young age, you have a tough internal stand. How did it happen?
I’m hard due to my work. I think the goal of any work is the result to be achieved. No results means everything was done in wrong way - wrong people, wrong method.
My first projects were related to the generator start-up within the shortest time under customer’s continuous control. No power, no explanations accepted. No matter what you managed to do. The work is considered as uncompleted till power appears. This is the main factor.
For other projects, the stand is the same - the result should be achieved as it is planned. I don’t like thick reports listing many insignificant things but facts.
- How do you create teams for different projects?
Often through personal relations. I choose people under «I like – I do not like» principle and they will find what to do in the project.
- Did you take participation in international projects?
We had a joint project with the British. We invited them to Surgut to bore bearings at TIA-800 rotor shaft. Nobody in Russia could do this job. And we decided to implement exemplary work with participation of Western specialists, and show them the beauty Siberia. But they arrived from Gibraltar on a sad day of terrorist’s attack at Domodedovo. Taxis were not allowed to the airport. The temperature difference was very significant for them - from +25 in Gibraltar to -38 in Surgut. I took them at night from the airport to the reservoir.
It was so foggy nothing could be seen. When I told them that Stephen King had wrote his famous book «Fog» here, they were relaxed somehow, and then we started normal work.
Now TIA-165 turbogenerator is being modernized at Krasnoyarsk GRES-2 power station, with the Polish «Alstom» branch.
But in general, we do not often work with foreigners – because of difficulties with customs and access to power plants for foreigners. All controlled-access sites are hard to make permissions. The time is spent and deadlines can be not met, it's always not good.
- You visited Bangladesh with specialists from «IED-Holding» engineering company. What is your impression about this country?
After the trip, there were many different impressions, mostly negative, but anyway the intended works - generator repair – I want to execute. Not to replace but to repair with increased power and modernization. It’s personal ambitions, because we have developed insulation systems and materials for tropical climatic conditions and want to use them in Bangladesh.
Actually I was invited there for visual and documentary examination of two turbogenerators. Once I had returned, I wrote two reports on the accident causes with proposals to reconstruct and modernize the turbogenerators.
- How is their attitude to the equipment there? Is it different from ours?
After visiting two plants I definitely can say that it is absolutely careless attitude. One example: a sensor for measurement of hydrogen purity showed 96%. I asked local specialists: «Why is the value so low?» They said - «How much should it be?» I replied: «At least 98%». They moved a slider manually to 98% and asked: - «Is that better?»
It is hard to say what is the reason for this attitude, but I think it's due to a low education level and lack of qualified operating personnel. Considering their work, they seemed to be just around. Fortunately, the equipment is reliable, though not in all situations. They killed two units. Such big problems could be avoided at better qualification.
- Do you use your own developments at the projects?
Yes, my own developments or ideas believed to move in the right direction the technique and current energy sector. We think over what to improve in new projects. So, we made an engine with F energy stability class, and we want to raise the temperature to see what will happen, if it operates not at 155° but at 180° or 200°. Or, may be better to operate at 250° or 300°.
Often customers with the equipment operating in extreme conditions order our service requiring for special solutions. We have such solutions for nuclear power plants, submarines, maritime affairs, for hydrogenerators, etc. The new solutions appear from specific demand: we are asked - we answered, it resulted in some ideas for improvement. If we have developed something, it will definitely be useful for someone.
Here's a simple example. We have manufactured for many years electromagnets for nuclear power stations, significantly improved by our specialists. We increased their operating resources at high temperature: they were able to operate for 20,000 hours at 150°, and now - at 220°. This is very significant, because this magnet has a lower probability to be burnt down at changed conditions. Additionally the power was increased. And all this like a puzzle lead to some new major works and solutions.
- What are your future plans?
I want to build a good production, specialized on we are currently involved – high-voltage windings, insulating parts, etc., and high-voltage technology, because we feel this area – we developed several unique technologies. We made samples of 110 kV to 500 kV class. There are no analogues in Russia.
- Do you still want to move abroad?
Now I don’t think of going abroad. I see myself in Russia since I have found a way to be realized here. I'm going to postgraduate course now. I have to finish what I’ve started before. It’s not my way to give up halfway through.