Peng Huan: Best Years for Successful Implementation of International Projects

Updated: November 22, 2021 Source: China Profiles
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Photo shows Peng Huan and his team.

In Peng Huan's Wechat Moments, what he has posted most is about running.

He is used to running 5km every morning after getting up. In running, the release of the dopamine could invigorate him for the new day and it is also the time when he could clear his mind, sorting out issues to be fixed. Then he would start work methodically. For many years as a project manager, he has been accustomed to prioritizing working efficiency.

From a young man new to the work to a project manager stable and reliable for the job, Peng Huan has devoted fifteen years in Belt and Road construction. Together with his team, he has carried out successful international projects.

"In my best years, I should shoulder responsibilities for something meaningful, so that my years would not be wasted." From Ethiopia to Thailand, from Thailand to Vietnam, he has explored with courage along this path full of obstacles as well as promises, toward his ideal. 

Ethiopia: A Highway Clear of Congestion

Eight years in Ethiopia is long and unexpected for Peng Huan. It is the first destination for his dispatch after graduation.

From his first day in majoring civil engineering at Hunan University of Science and Technology, Peng Huan has understood clearly that he would have a promising career ahead as the national investment in infrastructure construction is huge. It is also of his understanding that the work would be hard, with projects in and out of China, away from home.

In 2006 he joined the CCCC First Highway Engineering Group. Prepared to work abroad, he applied the position in Ethiopia. "I anticipated the hardship of this job, but my curiosity of working and living abroad drove me to get the picture there." At that time, China-Africa cooperation was in full swing. The triennial China-Africa Cooperation Forum was held as scheduled. China has assisted in many projects in Africa and his first project there was also one of them, making the work fulfilling for him.

Despite all this, Peng Huan was shocked by the view out of the airport: Lada taxis from the Soviet Union in the 1990s were everywhere; towards the center of the capital, the only decent road was a loop line built with Chinese assistanceand there were very few high buildings. He encountered groups of donkeys along the loop line, walking in no hurry. These animals seemed to be accustomed to the streams of passing vehicles…

Such being the case, Peng Huan decided to focus on his work. At the project site, he started from the basic tasks such as steel tying and concrete pouring. The place was of plateau altitude, its climate similar to Yunnan Province in China. For the first months, the strong UV rays always made his face and neck feel burned.

In Ethiopia, every cell of a city yearns for industrialization and "made in China" is satisfying such booming demand for infrastructure. Peng Huan has finished 3 municipal road projects in 4 years. He has been promoted quickly from project technician to economist and then to the project manager, every step down-to-earth.

During the eight years in Africa, Peng Huan's highlight moment lies in the experience of one appointment, as the manager of the first branch in the general contracting project, responsible for the first section (31km) of a highway connecting Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to Adama, its second largest city.

The highway between the two cities has been the main artery for transportation. Every day there are numerous passenger cars and trucks travelling between Addis Ababa and Djibouti Port, the largestmodern port in East Africa. Overcrowding of this road has become the obstacle to Ethiopia's foreign trade and logistics.

With this project, the traffic jam would be cleared. This road would become the No.1 Highway in East Africa both in scale and level, and also Ethiopia's first highway, with a total length of 78km, according to Peng Huan. As the first toll highway in East Africa, it applies Chinese standards in the project design, construction, supervision, and operation consulting.

Having put off his vacation several times, Peng Huan finally returned to China in 2010. Through his former classmate he met his wife, and at that time when they were dating, he received a notification from the company that he should return to work earlier than planned, because the former project manager quit the job.

There were many hillsides and ravines in this section of the road and the work amount was large within limited time, including excavation, backfilling, and land acquisition. The six subcontractors came from three countries, with working staff from various cultural backgrounds, which has posed difficulty in management. "The biggest challenge lies in how to overcome the language barrier, coordinate subcontracting teams and finish the project in such short time." Even though he has done several municipal projects in Ethiopia, Peng Huan still felt stressful.

After joint research with the project team, he formulated the overall subcontracting management principle of "win-win through supervision and help". He also adopted different management modes according to the characteristics of different subcontractors for better management.

Based on the construction schedule and work amount, the 31km has been divided into six sections with each subcontractor in charge of about 5 km, and an incentive mechanism was proposed. Ethiopia is a poor country, but influenced by European and American culture, people there do not work on weekends and shopping malls are all closed then. In the beginning, subcontractors were not used to working overtime. In order to boost their willingness to work, Peng Huan paid higher salaries, mostly 1.5 to 3 times the salary, according to local labor law. Monthly assessments were carried out in accordance with four areas of progress, quality, safety and manners. Rewards and penalties were also given in proportion to the completed work. In the end, all six subcontractors exceeded the project objects, laying the foundation for the project completion on time. On May 5, 2014, Premier Li Keqiang, who was visiting Ethiopia at that time, and the Ethiopian President attended the inauguration ceremony of the highway.

The proudest thing for Peng Huan is that with this project constructed in accordance with Chinese standards, it has made Chinese standards go global. "Now the standards of Chinese road design are more reasonable and practical than those of the Europe and America. The going global of the Chinese standards has also promoted the export of construction materials and equipment. It is more important compared with labor and capital export."

For people like Peng Huan, working in foreign countries, they always feel they should make amends for the time with their family. After getting married, Peng Huan decided to take his wife to Ethiopia and in Addis Ababa, they had their lovely child. Due to limited medical resources, Peng Huan had to send her back in China for delivery and he himself went back to work immediately. The next time he went back to China, his son was already six months old. He named his son "Addis" in English, and now his ten-year-old son would tell others: "Addis is the abbreviation of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. I was there when my mom had me."

Thailand: Export of New Energy Equipment Promoted

In 2015, Peng Huan was transferred to Zhongnan Engineering Corporation Limited of Power Construction Corporation of China. He came to Thailand for a new field: general contracting project management for the wind power.

It was not easy for Peng Huan to shift the role from the project manager more specialized in construction to a general contractor. In the construction mode, the project design, survey, purchasing and others are separated from the construction, responsible by different working units, while in general contracting mode, he should take responsibility of multiple processes from decision making to implementation.

Peng Huan still remembers the days that made him headache, "I was not familiar with the project design, purchasing, shipping, taxation, customs clearance, and so on and I have to make up for knowledge in these areas. Moreover, I also lacked the knowledge related to wind power, wind turbine equipment, mechanics and electrics."

"But there are also benefits," he said in a smile, "the climate and conditions in Thailand are far better than those in Africa," and he had more chance of going back home and more time with his family because the purchasing and contract negotiations need to be carried out in China.

Peng Huan's first project in Thailand was the general contracting project of WED wind power and his role was the deputy project manager. Although the wind power project was different from the bridge projects he did before, there were some similarities in the international project management. His superior then was Zhu Yijun, the project manager, and Peng Huan would like to regard him as his mentor, from whom he has learned a lot of technical knowledge and management skills. As a fast learner with good language ability, he caught up with the rhythm quickly.

In 2016, as the manager of the GNP wind power general contracting project, Peng Huan encountered the world's highest inland steel flexible wind turbine tower at that time, as the center of the wind turbine hub was of 153m.

Why was it built so high? The answer drew from the preliminary survey and design of Peng Huan and his team. "The location of the project isn’t ideal, belonging to the second-class division. In order to achieve better returns, the higher the wind turbines are built, the more electricity could be generated. The location of each wind turbine is also out of careful measurement." In the previous phase the height of the wind turbine was 125m and now it has been increased to 153m, with power generation efficiency increasing by 20 percent.

Then Peng Huan faced two huge problems. The first is that with such difficulty in hoisting, there was no previous experience they could learn from. The second problem is that the main parts and towers of the wind turbines were all exported from China to Thailand by sea and that with their being excessive of limit, ultrahigh and overweight, it was increasingly hard for transportation during which the cargo was more easily to be damaged. 

In response to these two technical bottlenecks, he organized the project department to set up two teams, one named "153 Challenge" for the quality control of hoisting, and the other one named "Intact Flowers" for the quality control of logistics transportation. As for the cargo damage during the large parts transportation, the project team analyzed the reasons and probability of each batch of cargo damage, formulated improvement measures and adopted PDCA Cycle (Plan, Do, Check and Action) so as to reduce the cargo damage. In the end, the transportation went safely and there has been no serious cargo damage in this process.

"Each wind turbine consists of five sections of tower where each section is 30m long, and three blades with each of 65m long, equivalent to the wingspan of a Boeing aircraft, and even the lightest parts are of 40 to 50 tons." While the components transported by sea were intact, those carried on land were not in smooth journey. Special vehicles were needed and the requirement on the road width, slope, hardness and turning radius also needed to be met. Sometimes they had to ask traffic police for temporary road closure. Peng Huan and his team have done a lot road surveys and simulations in the early stage. "When we come to hill, we cut a road, and when we encounter streams, we build bridge. We are just like that."

When the road and equipment were available, the rest went in order: the excavation of the wind turbine platform and the foundation pit, and pouring of the concrete foundation. When the hoisting plan was determined after thorough verification, the 1250T crawler crane was used for the first time, which was Peng Huan's top concern. "In strong wind, it is difficult to work when reaching a certain height. How to install these components correctly in windy weather, especially those blades, is a challenge." According to Peng Huan, each blade is composed of more than 130 bolts, and they need to insert the bolts into reserved holes in accordance with the standard of a precision of no less than 2mm. "It is just like threading a needle at an altitude of more than 100m."

It is still clear in Peng Huan's mind that on the afternoon of July 22, during the slow operation of 1250T main crane and its 171m boom, the third blade of the station 12 was successfully docked with the hub at the height of 153m, which marked that the hoisting work of the first wind turbine unit of the GNP wind power general contracting project in Thailand was smoothly completed. This success has laid a good foundation for the successful installation of the subsequent wind turbine units. They have finished the 33 ultrahigh units in 153 days, a miracle in the hoisting of ultrahigh units in the wind power industry.

Peng Huan always says that "our biggest motivation in doing our work comes from the recognition of the project owners." From 2015 to 2019, Peng Huan has finished five projects in Thailand. The projects brought export volume of the wind power generation equipment to 11.076 million U.S. dollars in 2016, and 129.175 million U.S. dollars in 2017 and 76.96 million U.S. dollars in 2018. It has ranked first in the export trade volume of Hunan enterprises in Thailand.

Vietnam: First Offshore Wind Power General Contracting Project

On the morning of December 15, 2020, as the commander of the concrete mixing vessel's captain ordered from the intercom, "the last concrete is poured, move the pump and the ship", the ST1-F1 first warehouse offshore wind turbine foundation concrete pouring was successfully completed. It is part of the wind power general contracting project in Vietnam: Bacliao Phase III and Soc Trang Phase I, undertaken by Zhongnan Engineering Corporation Limited of Power Construction Corporation of China. Peng Huan could not hide his excitement: "It is the fruit out of cooperation of all parties involved, another milestone after completing the construction of the first steel pipe pile when the first batch of staff entered Vietnam."

Vietnam is located in the subtropical monsoon climate zone with a long coastline. Its conditions for developing wind power, therefore, are rather favorable. The wind power is expected to be one of the factors that would increase Vietnam's electricity production. In 2019, when Peng Huan's work in Thailand has come to an end, he transferred to Vietnam, as the manager of the first overseas offshore wind power project undertaken by a Chinese company.

It has taken four months for Peng Huan to arrive in Vietnam, although the distance between Changsha and Vietnam is only more than 1,000km, within a day's drive.

In March 2020, COVID-19 wreaked havoc overseas, and Vietnam was no exception. The international projects of Zhongnan Engineering Corporation Limited were impacted. Peng Huan's project was originally planned to start in March. In order to arrive at the project site, Peng Huan, Liu Haobing, Xia Zhongbang and Liu Lei, the four party members, as vanguards, embarked on this journey. They planned to enter Cambodia as the third country for the 14-day quarantine, and then to Vietnam. However, the spread of the pandemic was so rapid that Vietnam changed its entry policy, and they could not enter Vietnam after the quarantine. They had no choice but to return to China and spent 14 days in quarantine in Chengdu as required before returning to Changsha. 

The failed trip, on the contrary, strengthened his determination to push forward the project. "We were upset during the month, but we had not lost any time then. Our working schedule was more crowded than before, because we could have video conference any time without the trouble of organizing and preparing for conference rooms." In dealing with the complicated preliminary preparations for the project, their team started the "007" mode.

At that time, the deadline of the project timescale was imminent. According to the policies in Vietnam, the state would subside for electricity prices if their project could be combined to the grid as scheduled, otherwise the electricity price would fall, damaging the interests of the client.

Peng Huan still remembers how anxious he was then, "I have tried everything." When the pandemic in China was under control, Peng Huan learned policies related to resuming work and production where those working abroad could apply for charter flights. He did apply, but gave up as it took too long for the approval.

The waiting and preparations during these tedious four months were of many twists and turns. On July 8, Peng Huan and his team, 72 people together, passed Guangxi Friendship Pass and Sino-Vietnamese border and managed to enter Vietnam. "We were much unsure then. These 72 people come from 72 families. Xia Zhongbang just got married, and Zou Jin just became a father…" This time, Peng Huan was fully prepared, but still under huge pressure.

Vietnam is a long and narrow country, and Bac Lieu is at its southern tip. They moved 1,500km within the country by plane and bus to arrive at the project site, "equivalent to the distance between Beijing and Changsha."

Hardly has one wave subsided when another rises. Peng Huan recalled, "it was very difficult to find a suitable hotel at that time because of the pandemic control, and in some places foreigners were not allowed to live." They moved from hotel to hotel with their luggage during the first month, "rather embarrassed". After staying in almost all the hotels in Bac Lieu, they finally found a place to settle down with the help of a local Chinese boss.

Despite displacement, for Peng Huan, the moment he arrived at the project site, he "felt secure". After a delay of more than six months, 152 people arrived here in batches and the equipment was also in place. Challenges from harsh sea conditions, turbulent undercurrents and squally weather ensued.

November is the monsoon period for Vietnam and the weather on the sea is treacherous. It may be sunny and peaceful half an hour ago and then suddenly dark clouds gather and a storm blows up. The construction ship undulated on the sea with the wind, like a pirate ship. "Many colleagues have to overcome the problem of seasickness, including me. We vomited heavily at first."

In order to expedite their working process, Peng Huan and his team put up with the severe condition stoically. They stationed on the construction ship in turn and paid close heed to weather reports from various sources. After careful study and analysis, they made good use of every opportunity they could construct, ensuring the working progress and quality. 

From the successful assembly of the first crawler crane, to the smooth sinking of the first steel pipe, and to the first pouring of the foundation concrete for the wind turbine, they have pulled together day and night. Peng Huan was rather touched by his team. "First time on the boat we all vomited, but none of us retreated. After vomiting, we continued to work on the boat. Everyone was sacrificinga lot."

His team is rather young, with 90 percent of them under the age of 35. They formed a 12-person Party branch and Peng Huan as the branch secretary. He organized vanguard teams of Party members and youths, and such models would inspire the whole team. As project manager, he often communicated with young people so as to understand their ideas and needs. "They would not think too much. What they care about most is the platform and opportunity for development, so for me, I would provide as many opportunities as possible so that they would become experienced soon."

In recent years, Peng Huan has applied apprenticeship. He would bring some young people when a new project came, giving them chance to learn things. Kuang Qingwen is his apprentice in this project. As a graduate from Dalian University of Technology, in his first project, he planned to apply what he has learned into practice. "When I first arrived at the project department, the reality poured cold water on my ambition. The gap between the theory and practice is huge. When I confided my disappointment to my mentor, he told me that I should gain new insight through reviewing the old and the self-examination is also important. He also encouraged me that I should bring my strength into full play." With such words, Peng Huan has untied the knot that bound Kuang Qingwen's mind. Apart from Peng Huan's professional skills, this capability of solving problems has impressed Kuang most.

At present, the project department has completed the entry procedures of 289 Chinese personnel in six batches, and 152 Chinese came to the project site. All 22 sets of large-scale offshore construction marine machines (except for the wind turbine installation vessel) were dispatched. The production and shipping of 57sets of anchor cages, 20 sets of steel pipe piles, and 12 sets of wind turbines and towers were finished. These all have laid the foundation for the smooth construction of the project. 

Peng Huan has not returned to China since last July. For him, the quarantine time in the round trip is a kind of "luxury". So far, 40 percent of the project has been finished and the 300 people of the project are all safe from the pandemic. The goal of his team has also changed from finishing the project on time to a double win in fighting the pandemic as well as in ensuring the quality of the project. As for that goal, he is full of confidence.

Editor: Yang Yifan