with Leonid Chernigov, chief executive officer , Rakurs
Mr. Chernigov, you founded Rakurs in 1991. Why was this the right time to do so back then?
In 1991, I was working in the Kirov plant in St.-Petersburg – known as Leningrad at that time. As the Head of the Construction Department of Automation, I had already acquired significant experience in developing and implementing automation systems in an important structure such as the Kirov plant.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was still a new born country. Many industries and plants stopped working and the country was facing a very difficult economic situation. At the same time, the transition had also created new economic possibilities where one could better realize his own potential. In a way, it was also a wakeup call.
As I did not really believe in the prospects of an enormous Soviet company, I proposed to some of my colleagues to create a new company that could better operate under frame of the new economy.
While it may seem easy today, the business idea upon which our company was created was rather bold at that time. The idea was to add Russian engineering onto an imported basis of automation. With such a well developed education system and highly qualified engineers in Russia, we were of the opinion that we could be very competitive. We therefore started looking into developing our customer base. At the same time, we started seeking technology partners too. Such partner was found in the Japanese automation company Omron, with whom we still actively work today.
Today, we have several big partners including Germany-headquartered Siemens with whom we have just recently created a center of joint competency. Both Schneider Electric and Metso Automation are also very active partners of ours, with whom we now enjoy strong ties.
Back in the 1990s, the niche of automation was a very difficult area to find work in. Many people did not even have food, albeit have time to think about automation. At the same time, there was a certain sensation of enthusiasm towards entrepreneurship and wish to realize ones potential. This is why we managed to develop our services, find clients and book strong results.
In the years 2000, a subsequent transformation of the Russian power sector took place. Did you have to adapt Rakurs’ business model to these changes?
It was not a coincidence that our first projects were in the energy sector. St. Petersburg city represented an energy cluster with a lot of manufacturers of energy equipment as well as research institutes and project institutes.
We have been cooperating with all the participants of this energy cluster, which has provided our company with the necessary competences to achieve our results. One could even conclude that our company initially developed through performed projects, started from designing of software for hydro generators control systems, and today we have been realizing complex turnkey projects of automation for HPP and TPP.
Can you now handle any size of projects in your niche?
In the niche of heat and hydro-plants, the answer is yes. All such projects now fit with our experience and technological competences. Nuclear plants, however, are a different ballgame. The monitoring of such reactors occurs in a different manner, uses different suppliers and has different technological requirements. So we have been actively supplying technological control systems for turbo generators to nuclear plants.
You already have an extensive track record of over 500 projects to date. Is there perhaps one or two you would like to highlight, a flagship project as it were?
The Computerized Process Control Systems (CPCS) at the Boguchanskaya HPP are definitely worth mentioning. The Boguchanskaya HPP is a plant that started construction in Soviet times and has been completing today. We have already commissioned automation systems for three aggregates while two more will be started up soon. It is one of our most advanced projects as we integrated all subsystems linked to the management of aggregates and auxiliary subsystems. In this way, we created an effective information environment to monitor and control the plant. The HPP now hosts an innovative modern system for aggregates monitoring, control and diagnostics. On the heat side, our most modern project has been the control system of block of 210 MW for the INTER RAO UES at Gusinoozersk SDPP. The project is at its final stage of realization.
How challenging is it to educate and train the onsite engineers, your end-users?
We have always paid special attention to this aspect of the business. For this reason, we provide a training center together with the Faculty of Robotechnics & Production Automation of the Electrotechnical University of St.-Petersburg. We have invested EUR 300,000 in this center, which now offers these engineers 2-week training courses.
So far, more than 600 people have been trained at our center. This number moreover only includes the experts from our client side. In addition to those people, we also have many students participating. These trainings allow the engineers to enhance a very reliable use of the plant.
Earlier, you also mentioned intense collaboration with several international partners as well as domestic research institutes. There is a certain perception, however, that many of the technologies needed to modernize the Russian power sector come from abroad. What role do you see for companies like Rakurs – and for research institutes in Russia – to drive innovation from Russia?
We work in a competitive environment and want our products to be modern and competitive too. Therefore, Rakurs is interested in attracting new technologies and solutions in the fields of automation and system integration to implement turnkey projects. We strive for using the best technology from different companies. In vibro-monitoring, for example, we work with GE Bently Nevada, VibroSystM and the Swiss company Brüel & Kjær. Whereas innovation is key to us, we also try to develop our own products that can efficiently monitor and control the systems at the plants.
Hydro, nuclear and heat are all areas that are expected to grow in capacity in Russia. Where do you see the most potential for Rakurs? Where do you also see the highest need for better automation and greater efficiency?
As any other company, we try to diversify business. We fight for both the nuclear and hydro power sectors, but see the most potential for us in the latter. The Russian Federation has great potential in this area and is planning to build several new hydropower plants in the near future. As for nuclear energy, our offer remains limited. We are now working on systems for technological control of turbo generators as well as vibro-monitoring system for turbo generators.
Would you have any last advice for Russia’s young engineers of tomorrow?
I graduated from the Electro technical Institute and defended my thesis while I was still working at the Kirov plant. It gave me the chance to understand the importance of business, having realized the necessity of new professional knowledge I subsequently obtained an MBA at the St.-Petersburg University. This changed my view on life and business, and provided me with an effective tool to implement my business plans.
In my opinion, technical education should come first. An engineer has a very analytical and systematic mind, and this is important to develop strategy. I still believe that engineering is the best profession in the world. The word ‘engineer’ means ‘creating something new.’ For all the young engineers, I hope they will believe in themselves and reach their purposes