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TPI of Newton trains Chinese workforce

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 11:35 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 11:40 a.m. CDT

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TPI is no stranger to international workers, and when a Chinese TPI plant needed to train its workers on how to build a new turbine blade, the Newton plant was happy to help.

“The reason why we bring these folks over here for a period of time, not just a day, or week but for several weeks is because it’s a hands-on business,” Mark Parriott,TPI Plant General Manager, said. “It’s a hands-on learning thing. If it was easy as sending somebody to a classroom it would be a whole lot easier to train them.”

A language barrier did not stop Newton TPI from training its fellow employees how to make the blade. The Chinese workers brought someone who understood English. His job was to not only translate, but train them as well. He was so successful that TPI asked him to come back for the second wave of Chinese workers.

“TPI is a global manufacturing company,” Parriott said. “We have plants on three continents, and we serve the same customer out of multiple plants. It’s common for companies with multiple sites building the same or similar products, serving the same customer, to move people periodically between sites. Sometimes those re-locations are long-term, but more common for short-term assignments”

In 2012, TPI retooled its plant to properly accommodate for a larger blade, which can provide a more efficient energy solution. TPI of Newton was the first in the organization to make the blade, and the TPI plant in China will be making the same blade.

“The amount of energy that a tower, a turbine, can harvest from a given air stream that’s going by is directly proportional to the swept area of the blade,” Parriott said of why the larger blade is growing in demand. “If you get a larger diameter you collect substantially more energy. So when you put longer blades on, that’s bigger diameter, larger swept area and you can either run a larger turbine with a same tower or you can run the same size tower or smaller turbine more hours per year. In other words, it allows the turbine to produce effectually at lower wind speeds.”

“There’s a plan that is being worked for them to transition, now, to the larger blade,” Parriott. “So they wanted to send a few teams of folks over here to learn how to make electric blades.”

The larger blade was popular in Europe, and when TPI decided to make it in the U.S. it was fitted to the same turbine designed for shorter blades. The result was a more effective turbine.

“This has the effect of reducing the leveling cost of electricity, because it’s essentially the same turbine,” Parriott said. “It’s a slightly more costly blade, because it’s a little bit longer, (but it) gives you more energy.”

Parriott is no stranger to the company’s travel program. He started out working in Mexico.

“My first year with the company I actually worked in our Mexican facility, and so I commuted in and out of Mexico every day,” Parriott said.

For Parriott, the training was key. Mexico had an established plant. He learned a lot, but even with the language barrier a lot of workers knew how to speak English.

“English is a very pervasive language,” Parriott said. “Out on the shop floor they speak Spanish. Out of the shop in Taichung they speak Chinese. Out on the shop floor in Turkey they speak Turkish. When you get into the professional ranks, the office and even a lot of the production leaders on the floor; these folks, guys and gals, have pretty good English skills.”

This did not mean that he did not learn to speak Spanish while in Mexico. Parriott understands that even when someone speaks English as a second or third language, it does not mean they will understand everything said to them.

“It was common for me to be (giving) one of my speeches, and you’re new in a place, and you got this team of people,” Parriott said. “You’re spending a lot of time talking about your philosophies and belief systems. It’s part of building a team and getting us all aligned. There was lots of times when I was doing that, and I would look around the room and realize that I’d lost everyone but the Americans.”

It was not easy for Parriott. He is from Newton and came back every so often to see his wife who is a teacher, but when TPI asked Parriott to run the plant in Newton he was happy to come home.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” Parriott said in regard to TPI offering him a job closer to his hometown and wife. “I said yes.”

TPI will not lose jobs to outsourcing. China does hold a labor advantage because of its cheaper work force, but the shipping cost ultimately secures jobs in the U.S., and Newton is located in the wind belt of America. The demand for wind turbines is growing and TPI of Newton is here to stay.

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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