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Vietnamese inventor changes powerline repair industry

Vietnamese inventor changes powerline repair industry

Tuesday, May 30, 2023, 10:22 GMT+7
Vietnamese inventor changes powerline repair industry
The bicycle built by engineer Nguyen Tri Hieu works similarly to the conventional bicycle.

While line erectors – professional engineers charged with erecting, maintaining, and repairing powerlines – are typically assisted by helicopters, in Vietnam these unsung heroes have spent the past decade relying on a considerably more modest means of traversing kilometers of powerlines – a modified bicycle.

Nguyen Tri Hieu, a 55-year-old accomplished line erector, also known as a lineman, spends his days leading a power line repair team in the central province of Quang Ngai, moving from one power line to another with the help of a modified bicycle attached to the suspended cables. 

While passers-by are often surprised to see Hieu and his team using such a unique contraption, many fail to realize that it is actually a uniquely Vietnamese invention.

Helping colleagues

A typical morning for Hieu begins behind a computer in his office in Nghia Chanh District, Quang Ngai City, poring over reports from on-site inspections of 220kV power lines conducted by his team. 

These reports are used to detect faults and repair damage in order to help the city avoid power outages.

Hieu and his 14-member team are responsible for maintaining 150km of power lines in the city.

“Each member of my team takes care of about 10km of power lines. Because the high-voltage 500kV and 220kV lines hang high above mountains, fields, and rivers, it is extremely difficult to detect faults," Hieu explained.

"If we do not [regularly check on the condition of the power lines], there might be incidents that lead to widespread power outages."

Since beginning his career as an electrical engineer in 1993, Hieu has seen considerable changes take place across the industry, most notably in how engineers in Vietnam traverse power lines.

When he first started, linemen had to hold their protective equipment and hang from broken power lines in order to finish repairs. Strong winds could make the job extremely dangers. 

Eventually, Hieu and his time began using a pulley system that would allow a lineman to hang from the line and be pulled from one place to another by another team member on the ground.

"Because power lines also hang over hills and rivers, it was often not easy to use the pulley system,” Hieu explained.

Hieu began ideating various methods to travel along the power lines, but he had difficulty finding a technique that was both efficient and safe until 2011 when he had his 'eureka' moment – an upside-down bicycle.

During the bicycle’s development phase, Hieu found himself facing many obstacles, most notably difficulties creating a prototype pulley for the bicycle that could conform to the shape and size of the power lines.

"To solve the problem, I added a second pulley to my prototype bicycle,” Hieu explained.

Hieu’s final design for the bicycle included an iron frame that could be suspended from power lines, and two wheels that allowed it to move back and forth. 

"I designed the bike's brake pads, levers, and gears so that my team could easily control their speed," Hieu said.

"Other components such as a seat post, a saddle, and hooks were designed with functions in mind. In short, the final products allowed workers to move easily, effortlessly, and safely while doing their work in the air."

Engineer Nguyen Tri Hieu stands next to his invention, which can move along power lines. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre News

Engineer Nguyen Tri Hieu stands next to his invention, which can move along power lines. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre News

Benefiting an entire sector

Since its invention, Hieu’s prototype has been adopted by linemen across Vietnam who appreciate the safety it provides while they work.

Unlike nowadays, when workers use the bicycle without fear, the firs several tests of the bicycle were pretty nerve-wracking considering it had previously only been tested in a workshop, not hanging dozens of meters in the air from a 220kV power line.

During the first test of the bicycle, Hieu stood on the ground directing his team members as they tried out the bike.

"Fasten your seatbelts as usual, get on the bicycle only after you have carefully prepared yourself. Please be slow. Safety first," he recalled telling his team.

"Even though I anticipated every possible incident in advance, I was very nervous. It was just like when your child takes an exam – even though you are sure they know the material, you are afraid they might not do well," Hieu explained.

But despite his fears, Hieu logically knew there was little that could go wrong – he had designed the bicycle to support over 100 kilograms, as well as included a safety belt and reinforced frame.

In 2011, shortly after inventing the bicycle, Hieu's initiative earned him a prize at the Quang Ngai Province Creativity Contest.

Later that year, he was presented with the Certificate of Creativity in Work by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

Now, years later, Hieu’s invention has been adopted by linemen in Quang Ngai and across the country. It has also undergone several re-designs, particularly with features to add to its safety and comfort.

According to Vo Trung, head of the Quang Ngai Power Transmission team, Hieu’s bicycle allows linemen to do their work three times faster and in a considerably safer manner.

"The most important thing is safety. Workers can do their work more comfortably when they do not have to work so hard," Trung said.

As for Hieu, he is incredibly proud that his invention has been adopted by linemen throughout Vietnam and endorsed by National Transmission Corporation.

Now, in this era of Industry 4.0, he hopes his younger colleagues will continue to follow his example of innovation in order to produce solutions that make their work faster and more efficient.

Known for his creativity

Dang Le Minh Man, director of Quang Ngai Transmission Corporation, said Nguyen Tri Hieu is known for the innovation he has displayed over the past 30 years.

However, because of the bicycle's outstanding efficiency, his other initiatives have not received quite as much attention.

"The bicycle has helped us a lot because it has minimized the time we need to check and repair damaged power lines," Man explained.

According to Man, Hieu and his staff have recently incorporated many creative ideas into their work, including the use of drones to inspect power lines and the usage of improved drones to combat fly threads stuck in power lines.

"We are very grateful to Hieu for his contribution to the power sector," Man said.

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Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News

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