Interview with Dominique Mallet, President of Thermocoax
Thermocoax’s HAF 604 certificate has been extended by China until 2022. On this occasion, its president, Dominique Mallet, is accommodating the GIIN.
How would you describe yourself and Thermocoax in a few key words?
DM – I joined Thermocoax at the end of 2013 after a career within international industrial groups. At this time, just like numerous other companies in the sector, we were faced with the uncertainty of the global nuclear market. One or our objectives then was to maintain our expertise in technical products and major projects, while developing internationally. Thermocoax has a wealth of 260 employees spread over 4 production sites – one site of which is dedicated solely to nuclear in Normandy – and 2 product expertise centres. In these centres we undertake the development, design and industrialisation of new solutions. They are based on our flagship technology – the cable with mineral insulation – silicone heating products, the measuring system and signal transmission.
In 2016, our turnover reached € 40 m.
Apart from these products, that which sets us apart from our competitors is the creativity and flexibility that we associate with the robustness of operation of much larger scale businesses.
Historically, the first activities of the company Thermocoax concentrated on the nuclear industry. What were the first customers to put their trust in you?
DM – That’s true, nuclear has been in our DNA since the company was created in 1957. The company was then called Société Anonyme d’Etudes & Réalisations Nucléaires (Nuclear Design & Realisation). It is only since 1982 that the company has taken on the name Thermocoax. Our career in the nuclear industry really started with CEA in France and GE in the United States. We then worked a lot with Framatome then Areva and EDF, with which we have continued to maintain useful cooperation. And today, for heating elements for use in nuclear “pressurisers”, across all platforms we are the number one company in terms of installed equipment across the world.
Today, what is the distribution of your activities between nuclear, aeronautical and space?
DM – This distribution is split into three thirds: one third for nuclear, one for aerospace and one for premium industries. We are therefore not tributaries for the cycles of any particular sector. We have specific certifications for each of these sectors. Our strength is in our capacity to provide bespoke products rather than from a catalogue, which helps strengthen the sustainability of our company.
With regard to nuclear, we are working a lot on instrumentation systems, particularly to measure physical quantities in the reactor core, such as temperature, neutron flows or even measuring the water level…
You have been on the Chinese market for more than twenty years. Can you tell us a bit more about your success in the Middle Kingdom?
DM – The company was first brought in by Framatome on the Chinese market with Daya Bay in the eighties. Today, with the increasing autonomy of China, we have built and maintain a robust network with local players – the major electrical operators, engineering companies and EPC – which are increasingly becoming our direct contacts.
At the end of 2016, a new market opened for the supply of neutron measurements for the first ‘Hualong’ plants of the CGN group, on which we based our position in partnership with a local player. We didn’t win this since the Russian players were the awarded this project.
You recently announced that the nuclear safety administration of the People’s Republic of China has extended your HAF 604 certificate. Can you explain to us what this certificate consists of? What experience feedback can you give?
DM – The HAF 604 certification aims to recognise the contribution of foreign-owned companies. Its role is to validate and inspect a pool of suppliers capable of being present on Chinese projects. It’s an indispensable door-opener. But it is also a voluntary approach, because it is a certification that needs very detailed rationale, and, on the industrial level, we are also seeking to protect our know-how.
Obtaining this certification, and not only this, by the way, is a good strategy that is paying off for us today. Due to the capability of working on several construction codes, for example, our company supplies China and is lining up to India and the USA. That is not even to mention our participation in
the HPC programme in Britain.
The situation in Russia is different: the market, mature and very closed in terms of technology, is self-sufficient. Our approach on this market is solicitous and opportunistic.
You pointed out during the Bourget 2017 fair that Thermocoax was going to launch a recruitment campaign this year. Do these recruitments also concern your nuclear activities?
DM – Yes, the nuclear activities are also concerned. 40 people are joining the group this year. We are achieving a growth of + 30 % in orders overall. We still have difficulty recruiting for technical posts. We are seeking candidates for production, industrialisation and engineering.
To conclude, what is your vision of the nuclear sector in terms of service-providing companies? How do you think it is going to develop, particularly on the international level?
DM – The global nuclear market has moved to China today and will be in India tomorrow. Our entire sector, faced with this great opportunity, has the challenge to increase and assess our competitive advantages, to guarantee performance criteria remotely and to supply and to seek out local partnerships. At the national and European level, we need a favourable and dynamic ecosystem which includes the political level, to be able to make arrangements for new territories.
With regard to innovation within Thermocoax, we have signed up to the major players of the sector within a development phase: through partnerships with EDF, projects with the CEA and Areva. We are working on solutions for tomorrow’s nuclear safety. Finally, based on the good practices of EDF, we can change the specifications of other electricians for more reliability and safety. We are therefore completing K1 60 years certification for our primary coolant loop instruments.
About Thermocoax – NDLR –
Thermocoax is a medium-sized French company specialising in thermal solutions and sensors for harsh environments for the nuclear and aerospace industries. One of the company’s strengths is its expertise in the manufacture of cables resistant to a temperature of up to 2000°C. This technology has allowed unique solutions to be developed.
The company has two production sites in France, one site of which is entirely dedicated to nuclear and workshops in Germany and the United States. 70 % of the production is exported.