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#2' 2005 print version

It came as a surprise to pundits: all of a sudden, there is a new maker of billet continuous casting and sintering machines in Russia. It is Uraltransmash. Presenting the plant in a conversation with Eurasian Metals general director of Uraltransmash Yuri Komratov revealed the intention to take over a considerable share of the metallurgy equipment market.

Sergei Oposhnyansky, Yevgeny Khokhlov

f there are no guns, there is no butter”

The very brand of Uraltransmash has been known in the Russian mechanical engineering for a long time. This is one of the Ural oldest industrial enterprises. Yuri Komratov believes that it is even the first mechanical engineering plant built in the region. "In 2007 we will mark the 190th anniversary", he says.
In almost two hundred years of its operation the enterprise, of course, changed the production specialization quite a few times. Uraltransmash switched to the last one during WWII, when it started making components for Ò-34 tanks and, later, for self-propelled artillery installations. Since then the plant keeps preserving its defense-oriented specialization being the country’s only maker of the whole range of self-propelled artillery. The last achievement in this respect is the super advanced caterpillar howitzer Msta S, which, as Komratov stresses, "has no match in the world by its range, accuracy of firing as well as by its rate of firing and target-hitting firing power".
However, such achievements no longer fit in the strategy of demilitarization having been conducted in the country since the start of the perestroika. In the words of Yuri Komratov, the financing of state defense orders has gone down so much that the serial production of military equipment at Uraltransmash has been suspended. Today’s volume of defense orders just do not ensure loading of production capacities.
So, the army was left without guns and their makers were deprived of butter. Workers were receiving miserable wages and they were getting them with big (up to six months!) delays.
"There is still no clear signal from the State as to whether there are any plans to develop armaments of this kind, whether there is a need for it whatsoever. And without it the vision of the plant’s outlook gets obscure", says Yuri Komratov. He states that by its status Uraltransmash is a federal state unitary enterprise set to support Russia’s military might. This limits its right to work on free market: "We cannot tell the State: You make up your mind and we, in the meantime, will be earning money by manufacturing other products; When funds for military equipment become available in the state budget, we will take the order, if any production capacities remain unloaded".
The management of Uraltransmash had to get out of this collision at its own risk. The first thing that they tried to do was to return to the specialization of the pre-war period, when the plant made purely civil products: oil field equipment, lifting gear, etc. It started anew the production of oil jacks, passenger and freight elevators, trams. However, this happened to be not enough in unstable economic conditions. As Yuri Komratov believes, there are no normal market conditions established in Russia yet and that is why peaks of demand are easily replaced with sudden and sharp downfalls. In 2003 there was no market demand for trams, oil jacks or elevator drives and Uraltransmash found itself in the most severe crisis. "After that we concentrated our efforts on searching for orders to make any products, even those unfamiliar to our enterprise. So, that was the way that led us to making equipment for the mining-and-metallurgy complex", notes Komratov.

Someone loses, someone finds

It was no accident that Uraltransmash, which never before produced metallurgy equipment, entered this market. Probably, it was the result of the personal experience of Yuri Komratov, who earlier was the general director of the Nizhny Tagil Iron & Steel Works and who maintained wide connections in the steel industry. He, so to say, sensed the existing conditions. Precisely at that moment all Russian big steelmakers entered the stage of the large-scale technical modernization, while mechanical engineering enterprises, on the contrary, practically stopped manufacturing metallurgy equipment. For example, the market’s leader Uralmash, which was owned by well-known entrepreneur Kaha Bendukidze, completely gave up making billet continuous casting machines, the key item in this business. The Severstal Group tried to seize the initiative and even established its own engineering company. However, switching to a full-fledged mechanical engineering of metallurgy equipment turned out to be above its strength.
Uraltransmash went its own way in making new equipment. In the words of Yuri Komratov, it was decided from the very beginning to manufacture complex equipment, not separate and spare parts. The specifics of the new business had to be grasped in the process. The general director recalls that it took six months to make the first billet continuous casting machine but the second similar machine was manufactured in 1.5 month. In other words, all necessary experience was acquired fast enough.
Uraltransmash has fulfilled already 6 major orders: from Severstal, MMK, the Novokuznetsk Iron & Steel Works and several other integrated ore mining and processing enterprises. Komratov is satisfied with results and he believes that their products are distinguished by the high quality: "The accuracy and neatness of processing, reliability and durability of products reflect the mentality of those, who work for the defense industry". In his words, customers’ representatives were even surprised by some peculiarities of technologies at Uraltransmash. "For example, we check each serrated joint for a contact spot trying to ensure a noiseless and easy operation of mechanisms", says Komratov. "In this case the saying "like clockwork" absolutely fits in. Of course, this results in bigger costs but customers should get confident that by its quality our equipment does not yield to the one that they purchase from Western companies", he stresses.
There is no direct competition with foreign producers. When Russian steelmakers switch to new technologies, they will start acquiring know-how as well as equipment from the world’s leaders, of course. Yuri Komratov has no doubt in this respect. But he still believes that, if the case in point is to keep most of production potential efficient, then, this market niche is essentially accessible. "Hardly anyone in the West would be investing in developing equipment that matched the one designed in the Soviet Union. That is why there is no risk of loss for us", says Komratov with satisfaction.
Certain difficulties for Uraltransmash are connected with arranging procurement of necessary materials and components. Sometimes it is hard to find structural steel of a needed kind and in a needed quantity. Besides, there is a problem of circulating assets. As Komratov explains, customers pay in advance no more than 30% of the equipment cost, i.e. the plant fulfills orders with the help of its own financial sources. "These are considerable amounts to us; an average order costs almost $1.5 million, while the cost of the large one is up to $2.5 million. That is why there is a need to economize at every step. The shortage of circulating assets and complexity of tasks prolong the preparatory process. But after that the work becomes normal and we have already got used to it", stresses the general director.
He says that a little more than a year has passed since the first metallurgy order has been received. In the past months the plant has made 1,200 tons of equipment. "Our task is to reach the level of 2.5 to 3 thousand tons of metallurgy equipment a year. Then, it will become possible to really reanimate the enterprise, to revive it in all units as well as in all operational spheres", says Yuri Komratov.

Prospects depend on State

Komratov recalls that having been not so long ago the director of NTMK he himself made equipment orders. And now he follows with enthusiasm the process of making a new equipment. "It was no less important to me, a steelmaker, to grasp the "mechanism" of a large-scale mechanical engineering production. The very first order to make a billet continuous casting machine for Severstal proved that some instruments were necessary, while some others were not needed, that they either corresponded to the latest requirements or not. It also helped evaluate precisely the qualification level of employees and, in some cases, realize the lack of professionalism", continues Komratov.
So, what, in the opinion of the plant’s general director, is the production and development potential of Uraltransmash?
The plant has the complete cycle of the mechanoprocessing, the casting complex, the forge-and-press production facilities, the wide range of thermal processing and metal-coating technologies (zinc coating, nickel-plating, anodizing, etc.). The casting complex is the most successful in technical and production terms. Its capacities are designed to produce 12,000 tons of cast steel and 4,000 tons of cast non-ferrous metals year-on-year. They are fully loaded round the clock. Thanks to relatively small costs and high market prices for commodity output the complex achieves the highest efficiency. However, as Yuri Komratov notes, the market of cast products is tough: "each niche is difficult to enter; if you are a little slow, then, its door is slammed immediately". For example, the certification procedure at the railroad transport was very complicated. But it was successful and today Uraltransmash is included in the list of suppliers of products to RZhD JSC.
Among other promising markets Yuri Komratov singles out the nuclear power industry, which, in his opinion, is also on the verge of a large-scale reconstruction and major repair works. "We have all the necessary complex of welding equipment for this and the complex has its own laboratory and a bunch of certificated welders", says Komratov.
"Everything that we have done so far could have been called the survival program", sums up Yuri Komratov. "In order to make Uraltransmash a leading mechanical engineering enterprise again, major investments are needed, for renovating the machinery equipment in the first place; the last metal-cutting machines were installed 20 years ago". At this point Komratov mentions again the problem of choosing a development vector. He says that by the order of the Russian President Uraltransmash has been included in the list of strategic enterprises that are to be privatized according to the State-established scheme. "It remains only to hope that there will be bona fide owners, who will move the Russian mechanical engineering industry forward in the direction that the country needs", concludes Yuri Komratov.

Yuri Komratov
The general director of the Uraltransmash plant, 54 years old. Born in the Ural city of Nizhny Tagil, which his destiny has been closely connected with. A metallurgy engineer by education, specialist in metal pressure-processing. For precisely thirty years, from September 11, 1968, till September 11, 1998, he worked at the Nizhny Tagil Iron & Steel Works (NTMK), where Komratov made all his professional career steps, from a worker to the general director. He headed this enterprise in the years of reforms, transformed it into a joint-stock company and conducted the reorganization needed for transferring the plant from the state management to privately owned business. Later, he worked as an advisor to the chairman of the Sverdlovsk region government. In 2003 Komratov has been appointed general director of Uraltransmash. Has an academic degree in technical sciences.
Married, has two daughters. Prefers to spend free time in the countryside and likes fishing.  

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