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A blade maintenance strategy is founded through compiling comprehensive site and blade health data, analysis of the data followed by a budget to enable a proactive program for the foreseeable future. What comes next is adapting an effective strategy of execution to the known issues and react to the unknown.

Tactics to Optimize Execution

Marcelo-Campos---Rope-Access-Tech-AJ-Lockwood-at-Armenia-MtHow does one prepare to schedule the work and maximize the limited working season? Your operations approach will depend on your wind farm fleet and geographical disparity. For instance, responding to one lightning damage at a small windfarm in a rural location will be more cost effective utilizing one rope access team whereas tackling a full site leading edge erosion project may be more cost effective using a skylift or a combination of access methods. But let’s consider other steps first.

  1. Regions:
    • Wind farm geographical disparity will affect your planning since each individual site has unique wind and weather. Identify the best months for work as well as the shoulder seasons.
    • Equally important is to understand the winter season as inevitably you will need to react to occasional events. Confirm winter repair capabilities of vendors. 
  2. Understand Access Methods: It is very important to understand the limitations of each access method to appropriately apply to the various maintenance needs.
    • Industrial Rope Access: An incredibly safe and mobile approach operating in teams of two technicians.
      • Pros: 
        • Light, fast capable of mobilizing to any wind farm quickly
        • Capable of nearly all at height work scopes (not only blades) such as composites repair, NDT methods, cleaning, bus bars, bolt torqueing etc. complete access to all parts of the turbine
        • Highly skilled technicians requiring years of training
        • Low cost and ease of mobilization
        • Can access two areas at one time
        • Rotor lock out is the general working limit, technician and work dependent
        • Quick set up and break down accessing work in 1 hour
      • Cons:
        • Some large blade repairs cannot be done using rope access
    • bronto-lift-1Articulating Access Platforms (e.g. Bronto, Palfinger): safe, rapid set up and break down mobile crane technology enabling access to all exterior parts of the tower and blades utilizing a minimum team of two: a crane operator and a basket operator.
      • Pros:
        • Medium response time often requiring transportation permits
        • Easy set up and break down accessing the work in about 15+ minutes
        • Ease of movement enabling access to all parts of the blade
        • 12m/s Wind speed limit, technician and work dependent
        • Capable of nearly all at height work scopes on blades or tower exteriors
      • Cons:
        • Can only access one area at a time
        • Daily cost
        • Mobilization cost
    • Scott-Hetcel-Maintenance-PlatformPlatforms/Moving scaffolding: Functional at height work platform enabling access to most of the blade and typically requiring 3 to 4 technicians.
      • Pros:
        • Advantageous for large uptower repairs
        • Less training required for operation
        • Can often access 360 degrees of blade surface from one position because multiple techs can be working on the blade at the same time
        • Medium response time unless stored locally
        • Mobile not requiring permits
      • Cons:
        • Cost primarily due to number of technicians required
        • Slow set up and breakdown accessing work in 2-3 hours
        • Manufacturer recommended safe operating winds speeds up to 10M/s
  3. Vendors:
    • Develop a vendor qualification standard to include in your vendor approval process to include standards for repair and reporting; this standardized approach will create consistent outcomes as well as enable your team to compare vendor’s results apples to apples. 
    • Identify and qualify vendors. Consider their at height access methods; rope access, platforms, skylifts, cranes. Do they have an engineering team? What is their industry experience? Do they have regional offices or technicians? 
    • Vendor approach: How does each vendor approach the work? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What differentiates them? Do they have regional offices, regional teams?
    • Which vendors can you count on for rapid response needs? What is the desired response time and to which distances?
    • Which vendors can you count on for your highly skilled inspections? This will most often include gathering the necessary data to support failure mode assumptions.
  4. Operations:
    • Start inspection and repair work during the shoulder seasons.
    • Inspect and repair in a tandem campaign by using cross trained inspection/repair technicians. Rather than waiting for inspections to be completed and then scheduling the repairs, repair immediately. Identify categories of damage that are considered urgent and repair as they are found which will limit turbine downtime and make the most of the working season.
    • Utilize multi skilled teams that can transition work scopes depending on the weather. Anytime a technician is on a blade a basic inspection should be completed.
    • Complete up tower inspections of a small percentage of all ground inspected blades to confirm findings.
    • Provide onsite flammable cabinet space for repair materials and assist in or provide disposal options. This will ultimately save on associated costs.
    • Hire multiple vendors on large projects as much can be learned in comparing apples to apples.
  5. Ongoing Research:
    • Consider a group of targeted inspections of previous repairs annually to gauge repair life and to hold vendors accountable for substandard work.
    • Complete trials of new products or materials such as leading edge protections to qualify use across projects.
In an industry consumed with driving down costs the only way to improve the maintenance costs of wind blades is to implement a proactive blade maintenance strategy and execute effectively: Regular inspection with an experienced team will manage the pulse during the fatigue life identifying issues as they arise rather than responding to the aftermath. Develop a seasonal repair strategy supported by known site conditions, blade health and vendor access methods. Confirm vendor capabilities and competence and create a system of accountability to maintain quality results. Start the work early in the shoulder months to stay ahead of the game and make hay while the sun is shining.
Joshua Crayton

Joshua Crayton

Josh is an avid climber and nine years ago took his passion to a new level by making it a career as a rope access technician climbing and repairing turbine blades. He quickly grew with the company and industry helping to develop the rope access business and overall blade services part of the business. His hands on experience, high safety and quality standards, and business acumen make him a great fit for the UpWind team.

Josh has spoken on blade O&M services several times including at the AWEA O&M & Safety Seminar on “New Blade Concepts Affecting O&M” and Optimizing Wind Power O&M Conference on “Cutting to the core: Maintaining your turbine blades.” His unique talents and expertise will help UpWind continue to lead the way as the most comprehensive O&M service provider in North America.

Topics: rope access, blade services, maintenance, blade maintenance, RCM