Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Picture: Reuters
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Picture: Reuters

Formula 1 lessons for Eskom CEO André de Ruyter

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 3, 2021

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Matshela Koko

Pretoria - Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s world title duel will finally be settled over the next two weekends.

Verstappen leads Hamilton by just eight points after 20 races. The 2021 F1 world champion will either be crowned at this week’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, or at next week’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

The intensity is high. It is a world championship of the highest category in motor racing sport. The championship has been narrowed to two drivers, two teams fighting for the title. The tiniest of margins will make a difference.

Reliability versus performance is the fine line that both teams must get right to win the world championship. The Hamilton/Mercedes combination has had a level of reliability almost unparalleled in the history of F1. The Max Verstappen/Red Bull combination seems to have overcome the reliability troubles they experienced during the 2020 campaign season.

Performance in F1 racing stands or falls by the performance of the racing car. For high performance, it is necessary for the rigidity, strength and dynamics of all components to be optimally attuned to each other.

All moving parts are designed to be as light as possible, high-grade materials are used, and precise calculations are invaluable to optimise the distribution of stresses in the components. Material that is not exposed to high stresses is removed to keep the moving mass as low as possible.

When the racing car is ready, it undergoes extensive test procedures. The racing car is running, but for how long can it run? When does it need a pit stop, and what maintenance does it require to keep it running and reliable?

Bringing the racing car into a pit stop is a carefully thought through and calculated task. Everything from track position to traffic is considered, with the goal being to minimise the time it takes for the racing car to enter and leave the pit stop without disruption and without compromising the team’s position in the race.

Once the car leaves the pit stop, it must remain functional until the next pit stop or until the chequered flag is waved to signal the completion of a race. Every F1 driver wants to be on the podium.

While the driver may be the one getting all the attention, F1 is as much a team sport as any other, and this is nowhere more evident than during the pit stop. Each team has a crew of 20 people, working hard with breathtakingly fast, precise and coordinated moves, from fixing and repairing all the mechanical issues to just changing the tyres.

During a pit stop, there are 36 tasks that need to be completed in two seconds in a certain sequence. Each member has a specific set of tasks and only several tenths of a second to complete them. They don’t have time to check to see that someone else has completed their tasks. This is about simultaneous delivery.

A pit stop crew has all the materials they need close by. The tyres, and the tools needed to change them, are checked and ready to go in the pit lane before the racing car comes in. Just as critically, every team member understands how each task will be performed and is able to repeat it the same way every time.

F1 pit stops are the most intense and exciting features of a Grand Prix. Races are won and lost because of the performance of pit crews at pit stops.

I invite Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and his team to watch the final two rounds of the 2021 F1 season so that they can appreciate how the Max Verstappen/Red Bull combination overcame the reliability troubles that they experienced during the 2020 campaign season.

Matshela Koko is the managing director of Matshela Energy and a former Eskom executive. Picture: Supplied

Max Verstappen and Red Bull did not blame sabotage or any other external factors for their poor reliability run in 2020. This weekend, Max Verstappen could potentially claim his first F1 title in Jeddah.

Like F1 pit stops, unit outages in a power station are one of the most intense and exciting features of the power system. Every 12 years, the high-pressure turbine is overhauled. Every nine years, the intermediate pressure turbine is overhauled. Every three years, the low-pressure turbine and the generator are overhauled.

The boiler plant maintenance follows the turbine plant maintenance. The turbine maintenance scope is always on the critical chain. The balance of plant maintenance is not, and should not, be scheduled during the unit general overhaul because of the N+1 configuration that is built into the balance of plant design.

A generation unit outage is not necessary for an overhaul of equipment that is part of the balance of the plant. What is needed is a proper isolation permit of the equipment that is due for maintenance in the balance of the plant while the generation unit is in operation.

The higher, unrelenting pressure for a power station unit to deliver improved and predictable performance between pit stops places high demands on the system engineers and their environment.

A power station unit must leave a pit stop without disruption and without compromising the unit’s position on the merit order list.

Once a power station unit has left a pit stop, it must remain functional and reliable until the next pit stop or until the chequered flag is waved. The quality of maintenance work during a pit stop delivers the improved and predictable performance of a power station unit between pit stops.

De Ruyter must take some lessons and understand. He must focus on the quality of maintenance work during pit stops. Unless and until he does that, he will continue to think that he is being sabotaged, when he is not.

The quality of maintenance work during a pit stop is Eskom’s biggest challenge.

The moral of the story is that scapegoating does not win championships, nor will it solve Eskom’s problems.

* Koko is the managing director of Matshela Energy and a former Eskom executive

Pretoria News

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