40 years ago, Itaipu plant started its history. On May 17, 1974, Brazilians and Paraguayans took the first step to start constructing the plant with the constitution of the binational. In the next four decades, the work would transform the West region of Paraná and would contribute to a new economic and more industrialized profile of Brazil and Paraguay.
Today, Itaipu is key for the energy infrastructure, for the integration and for the development of both countries.
Alstom played a key role in the project, supplying 10 of the 20 generating units of the plant, each one with 700MW capacity.
Our company still has employees who participated in this project and built a successful history with us.Read below the interview with Januário Dolores, Hydro Director for Latin America, who worked in the project of the plant since the late 1970s.
- What was your role in the project of Itaipu plant, and in which period?
I worked at Itaipu while I was a machine operator, in the late 70s and early 80s. I still remember some pieces I manufactured or helped manufacture. In the late 70s I worked as a lathe worker in a small lathe, and I manufactured components for generators. Then during the 80s I worked in other different positions in the plant, but most of the time for the Itaipu Project. For us, at the time, there was something interesting, because in Itaipu everything was superlative. Things were either too big or in huge amounts, and we had a lot of work.
- How do you feel having worked for such a relevant project for Alstom and for the hydro market?
Itaipu was a project with great visibility. It was the largest and most important project in Brazil, and it was used by the government to reinforce national pride. Obviously, for me, being somehow involved in that was a reason of pride and also of curiosity, since communication was much harder and we did not have that much information available. It was more important for the abundance of work and for the possibility of increasing income, since, in view of the gigantism, we could and were requested to work a lot of overtime, and that was exceptional for us at the plant.
Later I had many opportunities to go to Itaipu, so I could feel I had been part of something historical. Every time I see an image of Itaipu I repeat the same thing, whether for someone who’s with me or to myself: I worked years of my life for this project. Although they are not visible, inside there there are hundreds, probably thousands of components I made myself.
- What has changed in your career and at Alstom since when you worked in the project?
Since that time, a lot has changed in my life and my career. I became a better human being, and therefore a better professional, which allowed me to have more than a dozen different positions and to become more prepared for life.
The Itaipu project offered me learning that I always carried with me and which was certainly determining for me to have the career I have. Those huge amounts made me imagine every day how I could do my job better and faster, and this behavior rooted in such a way that it became a value to me, to try to relentlessly improve everything I do every day.
Alstom has also changed a lot since Itaipu. The difficulties after Itaipu were huge. The lack of projects generated the need for adaptation, not only for us, but also to the entire production chain, and these difficulties forced us to develop new ways of working, with much less resources. Our market has also changed a lot, as we worked exclusively for public clients and today our clients are mostly private. This made competition tougher, and forces us to constantly improve to find competitiveness, at a very high speed. In these nearly 40 years we intensified the use of computing at the company, which was key to increase productivity. Another extremely important factor was the evolution of the leadership style, with plenty of communication and much more involvement from people.
- What were the main advances in technology since this project was executed?
Itaipu was a leading edge project in terms of technology. A lot of investment in research and development was made to generate technology to build the plant and manufacture the equipment. Since then, we had in Generators and Turbines advances considered key in terms of technology. We had advances in materials, especially insulating materials. We also have the use of more environmentally correct materials. There was a slow evolution in turbine efficiency, as this is a continuous development process.
Where we had great advance is in the field of command, control and plant protection systems. With the evolution of computing, today we have more modern, smaller and more efficient products. Although the equipment installed in the plant have been totally pioneer, it can’t compare to what we have today, as the speed of evolution in this field was very big.
In terms of industrialization, there were also many changes. The Itaipu components were all 100% measured and controlled. It was an era of total quality control of the products, and this was forcedly changed after Itaipu, because of the need to reduce costs, and we gradually migrated to a process control system and quality self-control by operators, simultaneously with the boom of implementation of quality systems based on ISO 9000, which happened in the 90s.
In my view, an important change that happened after Itaipu is that at the time cost and deadline were not that much demanded. Budgets were generous, consequently with excellent profit margins, and the deadlines were also much longer than the ones we practice today. In view of the reductions in deadlines and prices, we needed a lot of development in manufacturing processes, organization, investments, methodology and, substantially, more aware and engaged people.