Jan 27, 2017

Al-Raha Group: next generation

Nell Walker
4 min
The Al-Raha Group for Technical Services – or RGTS – has enjoyed great success and quality of expansion since its establishment in 1986...

The Al-Raha Group for Technical Services – or RGTS – has enjoyed great success and quality of expansion since its establishment in 1986. Today, the company specialises in supply chain management services, repair and refurbishment of aerospace ground support equipment, special purpose vehicles, and power. Based in Saudi Arabia, it aims to become a hugely trusted supplier of parts, support services, personnel, and equipment to suit the requirements of its clients.

The company prides itself on its integrity and focus on customer requirements, applying advanced technology, innovation, and solid business management to its business relationships. It chooses to recognise its suppliers and clients as partners, ensuring respect from all sides, and cementing RGTS’s reputation as one of high-quality standards.

Power systems division

One segment of RGTS’s expansive business is the power systems division, led by Business Unit Manager Tareq Harb, who explains the role of his sector within the RGTS umbrella: “Our main task is the supply, rental and maintenance of diesel generators,” he says. “We have both medium speed and fast speed engines; we supply from 50 up to 5,000 kVa generators, and on a rental basis, we offer from 50 to 2,500 kVa per single unit and up to 100MW for a complete power plant. This is what we have been doing since 2009.”

Harb has worked with RGTS for a decade, and is now in control of the power systems division’s technical department: “Here we have around 40 employees; 35 of them are technicians and engineers, and the other five are an operations manager, a service manager, a sales manager, and two sales representatives.”

The company finds most of its employees through the manufacturers from which it buys. Most of the power division’s generators come from Cummins Power Generation, and to a lesser extent, Volvo, and Kohler: “Employees we find via these companies are already trained; in the case of Cummins, at its headquarters in Dubai. Most of it is basic training, not deep technical training – that happens on the job.”

Powerful partnerships

RGTS’s power division’s main function is as a supplier for the Saudi Electric Company, Saudi Arabia’s foremost electric utility business. It maintains 19 power plants across the kingdom, and has a monopoly on the services it provides. It currently holds two contracts with RGTS, and is working towards another three: “The total value of the contracts is around 100 million Saudi riyal,” Harb explains. “The duration for these contracts is three years per contract, and is focussed on power generation for remote areas, specifically villages. For the past five years, we’ve worked almost exclusively with the Saudi Electricity Company.”

However, Harb’s division sees a future beyond its major partner: “Starting last year we’ve been working on other divisions. We are partnering up with the government and will receive some contracts for the supply and installation of generators for a few government ministries, as well as in the private sector. We already have a few small projects in the private sector. We’re not necessarily close to becoming international, but we’d like to be regional and start working in neighbouring countries.”

Most of the team’s projects are based in the Northern Borders Province of Saudi Arabia, specifically the capital city, Arar. “We have a chief maintenance centre there, and this maintenance system controls all of the technicians and engineers in that area,” says Harb. “Plus we have our main offices here in Riyadh, our main workshop, and beyond. The complex work is undertaken in Riyadh while the minor jobs are done on-site.”

Looking to the future

What sets RGTS’s power systems divisions apart from around seven other competitors sharing the market is its determination to grow. “We have plans to extend into different parts of the private sector,” Harb explains, “such as the construction industry. We also plan to start installing generators and standby generators in hospitals and medical centres, but we’re more interested in construction and petrochemicals. We’ll be putting in a big order for new generators, starting with 100 units for now, and expect to receive the order in the next couple of months. Then, once the units arrive, we’ll have new sales employees in place alongside our existing technical staff.”

With regards to future improvement, the company is offering specific training courses for its technicians and engineers, and is hiring between five and 10 employees in new positions every year. It also allows partners like the Saudi Electricity Company the chance to visit its facilities, which strengthens the relationship.

Harb concludes: “Within the Saudi Electricity Company, we are a strong competitor; outside of this, we are progressing more slowly. It requires some time to be a strong competitor, but with the aid of our future projects, we will achieve our goals.”

 

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Jun 12, 2021

Why Transmission & Distribution Utilities Need Digital Twins

digitaltwins
Technology
Utilities
Management
Petri Rauhakallio
6 min
Petri Rauhakallio at Sharper Shape outlines the Digital Twins benefits for energy transmission and distribution utilities

As with any new technology, Digital twins can create as many questions as answers. There can be a natural resistance, especially among senior utility executives who are used to the old ways and need a compelling case to invest in new ones. 

So is digital twin just a fancy name for modelling? And why do many senior leaders and engineers at power transmission & distribution (T&D) companies have a gnawing feeling they should have one? Ultimately it comes down to one key question: is this a trend worth our time and money?

The short answer is yes, if approached intelligently and accounting for utilities’ specific needs. This is no case of runaway hype or an overwrought name for an underwhelming development – digital twin technology can be genuinely transformational if done right. So here are six reasons why in five years no T&D utility will want to be without a digital twin. 

1. Smarter Asset Planning

A digital twin is a real-time digital counterpart of a utility’s real-world grid. A proper digital twin – and not just a static 3D model of some adjacent assets – represents the grid in as much detail as possible, is updated in real-time and can be used to model ‘what if’ scenarios to gauge the effects in real life. It is the repository in which to collect and index all network data, from images, to 3D pointclouds, to past reports and analyses.

With that in mind, an obvious use-case for a digital twin is planning upgrades and expansions. For example, if a developer wants to connect a major solar generation asset, what effect might that have on the grid assets, and will they need upgrading or reinforcement? A seasoned engineer can offer an educated prediction if they are familiar with the local assets, their age and their condition – but with a digital twin they can simply model the scenario on the digital twin and find out.

The decision is more likely to be the right one, the utility is less likely to be blindsided by unforeseen complications, and less time and money need be spent visiting the site and validating information.

As the energy transition accelerates, both transmission and distribution (T&D) utilities will receive more connection requests for anything from solar parks to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to heat pumps and batteries – and all this on top of normal grid upgrade programs. A well-constructed digital twin may come to be an essential tool to keep up with the pace of change.

2. Improved Inspection and Maintenance

Utilities spend enormous amounts of time and money on asset inspection and maintenance – they have to in order to meet their operational and safety responsibilities. In order to make the task more manageable, most utilities try to prioritise the most critical or fragile parts of the network for inspection, based on past inspection data and engineers’ experience. Many are investigating how to better collect, store and analyze data in order to hone this process, with the ultimate goal of predicting where inspections and maintenance are going to be needed before problems arise.  

The digital twin is the platform that contextualises this information. Data is tagged to assets in the model, analytics and AI algorithms are applied and suggested interventions are automatically flagged to the human user, who can understand what and where the problem is thanks to the twin. As new data is collected over time, the process only becomes more effective.

3. More Efficient Vegetation Management

Utilities – especially transmission utilities in areas of high wildfire-risk – are in a constant struggle with nature to keep vegetation in-check that surrounds power lines and other assets. Failure risks outages, damage to assets and even a fire threat. A comprehensive digital twin won’t just incorporate the grid assets – a network of powerlines and pylons isolated on an otherwise blank screen – but the immediate surroundings too. This means local houses, roads, waterways and trees. 

If the twin is enriched with vegetation data on factors such as the species, growth rate and health of a tree, then the utility can use it to assess the risk from any given twig or branch neighbouring one of its assets, and prioritise and dispatch vegetation management crews accordingly. 

And with expansion planning, inspection and maintenance, the value here is less labor-intensive and more cost-effective decision making and planning – essential in an industry of tight margins and constrained resources. What’s more, the value only rises over time as feedback allows the utility to finesse the program.

4. Automated powerline inspection

Remember though, that to be maximally useful, a digital twin must be kept up to date. A larger utility might blanche at the resources required to not just to map and inspect the network once in order to build the twin, but update that twin at regular intervals.

However, digital twins are also an enabling technology for another technological step-change – automated powerline inspection.

Imagine a fleet of sensor-equipped drones empowered to fly the lines almost constantly, returning (automatically) only to recharge their batteries. Not only would such a set-up be far cheaper to operate than a comparable fleet of human inspectors, it could provide far more detail at far more regular intervals, facilitating all the above benefits of better planning, inspection, maintenance and vegetation management. Human inspectors could be reserved for non-routine interventions that really require their hard-earned expertise.

In this scenario, the digital twin provides he ‘map’ by which the drone can plan a route and navigate itself, in conjunction with its sensors. 

5. Improved Emergency Modelling and Faster Response

If the worst happens and emergency strikes, such as a wildfire or natural disaster, digital twins can again prove invaluable. The intricate, detailed understanding of the grid, assets and its surroundings that a digital twin gives is an element of order in a chaotic situation, and can guide the utility and emergency services alike in mounting an informed response.

And once again, the digital twin’s facility for ‘what-if’ scenario testing is especially useful for emergency preparedness. If a hurricane strikes at point X, what will be the effect on assets at point Y? If a downed pylon sparks a fire at point A, what residences are nearby and what does an evacuation plan look like?

6. Easier accommodation of external stakeholders

Finally, a digital twin can make lighter work of engaging with external stakeholders. The world doesn’t stand still, and a once blissfully-isolated powerline may suddenly find itself adjacent to a building site for a new building or road. 

As well as planning for connection (see point 1), a digital twin takes the pain out of those processes that require interfacing with external stakeholders, such as maintenance contractors, arborists, trimming crews or local government agencies – the digital twin breaks down the silos between these groups and allows them to work from a single version of the truth – in future it could even be used as part of the bid process for contractors.

These six reasons for why digital twins will be indispensable to power T&D utilities are only the tip of the iceberg; the possibilities are endless given the constant advancement of data collection an analysis technology. No doubt these will invite even more questions – and we relish the challenge of answering them. 

 

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