An effective inspection programme needs to be tailored to suit your portfolio’s needs. It needs to consider your organisation, its specific operations and also the types of assets you own and operate. Most importantly this means understanding who you are as a business, what it is you do and also your strengths & weaknesses.
This is a key initial step to developing an effective wind turbine inspection strategy. It will help you determine where you must focus your attention and efforts.
Are you a long-term or a short-term operator? This will influence how important equipment longevity is to your business and also how aggressively you run your assets.
Is your organisation a technical “hands on” organisation or a non-technical “investor” type? This will influence how you manage your resources and therefore how you maximise value from them. Knowing this will allow you to determine the level of monitoring that you feel is appropriate for you as an organisation.
Are you a large or small organisation? How many technical personnel do you have? This will allow you to determine what capacity you have to perform field work.
Do you have knowledgeable engineering experience in-house? Are your people tooled and trained to perform skilled technical investigations in the field? And finally, most importantly is having this expertise one of your organisation's goals?
Having a handle on what available operational budget you have will help you map out where you see the best “bang for buck”.
This is very important. You must identify where you have the greatest exposure when something goes wrong. What in your portfolio is covered by contract? What is too critical to fail on your watch? Therefore where should you be focusing your time and effort?
Simple maintenance management tools go a long way and help you flag potential risks in your portfolio. These are highly important to ensure the maintenance compliance of your service providers. They are critical to allow your organisation highlight, monitor and prioritise Technical and Safety issues just like any incident management system.
Now that you have taken the time to understand your organisation and its goals the next step is to clearly define what assets and equipment you have.
You must determine what your technology mix is. Not all wind turbines or their equipment will require the same maintenance or attention. The potential for component failure is heavily dependent on manufacturer, model and the technology’s design and operating principles.
For instance, a Direct Drive WTG (i.e. one which does not utilise a gearbox) does not have high RPM rotating equipment or gear oil systems. Therefore oil monitoring and conventional vibration monitoring systems are not required. The design variation also means that the typical failure modes associated with high speed equipment are not seen in these machines.
Having complete awareness of your technology mix will allow you to tailor your inspection programme to take account of these attributes and center your attention where it matters most.
It is important to understand the age split between your projects and determine where each of them sit on the Bathtub Curve. This will allow you to determine the type of failures you can expect to see during the life of your components.
Tracking replacements of major components is also important as this will shift their position on the curve and therefore alter their inspection and maintenance requirements vs. their peers.
Due to the fact that many wind energy projects are now maturing they are starting to enter the “wear out” phase. This is an unpredictable period where maintenance quality and condition monitoring of equipment and structural elements is far more important than it has been in previous years.
Knowing the full list of your primary components is crucial to understanding your exposure to financial risk. Having an up to date or “Live” equipment register will allow you to determine exactly what assets and equipment you have installed, their serial numbers, make, model, age/running hours and whether or not there are any known serial defects associated with those components.
Your monitoring and inspection strategy can be directed as appropriate given this knowledge.
Your equipment register will help you conclude where your risk exposure is. For instance, wind turbine foundations may or may not be included in the Turbine Supply Agreement (TSA) or the O&M Services Agreement. Similarly many service agreements may exclude wind turbine blade inspections and repairs.
Knowing what areas you are responsible for will help you focus your operational budget in the right direction to minimise financial risk with your projects.
A pragmatic owner knows that the goals and motivations of their third-party maintenance providers are not always aligned with their own objectives. Monitoring and verification of your contractors work is important to ensure your organisation is receiving the quality expected from your annual service fees.
There are three components which can be verified to get a good picture of the service quality of your maintenance provider;
If you are experienced working in the wind industry then you most likely have encountered this sort of thing in the past. Depending on who maintains your assets you may or may not have a good exchange of technical information between both you and your contractor.
Where communication is poor your organisation will often need to seek out that information through technical investigations, field inspection and advice from the relevant wind turbine industry experts.
This ties back to what kind of organisation you are. If you are in for the long haul you will most likely put greater emphasis on equipment longevity. You will be keen to avoid overworking your assets and will also pay greater attention to indicators of equipment condition.
The question is, does your maintenance contractor have the same motivation? If they are the ones who are operating the WTG’s (as many do because they are the Original Equipment Manufacturer - OEM) then they will decide how hard they work your assets. The maintenance strategy adopted by the OEM will also have an impact on the Safety and Integrity of your asset.
By appreciation of the difference between these motivations you will be able to determine what areas you should be more concerned about and what the impacts of certain practices will be.
At this point you will have identified where your risk areas are and you will have defined a suitable inspection programme for these areas. Now you will need to determine what it is exactly you are looking for.
A cleverly designed inspection programme will aim to obtain in an intelligent way the information you need but at the lowest possible cost to your OPEX budget. Below are some examples of the types of things an owner should be looking for;
Last Updated: 01 February 2022
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