Condition Monitoring Failure Is Not an Option

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One question that stands out in the wind industry is if we can revisit time-tested fundamentals and practices already proven successful in other industries and apply them to wind. The wind industry has a target service life for the typical wind turbine gearbox of approximately 20 years. The U.S. wind industry not only represents a large market for wind power capacity installations, but also serves as a growing market overall for American manufacturing business and, subsequently, the jobs created as a result. Hundreds of manufacturing facilities all across the country make components for wind turbines, ranging from the towers and blades to the assembled nacelles. These jobs range from professional and engineering services to the skilled crafts and tradesmen that make, repair, and service the towers in all facets of their development, operation, and electrical production life cycle. As we strive to meet the evolving clean energy demands of the 21st century, the challenge will be to provide an environmentally clean and profitable solution for generations to come.

Taking into consideration wind farm history and case study documentation, it would suggest failures of wind turbine components are far too commonplace, with each failure requiring possible major component replacement or repair before designed end-of-life. Industry data indicates that in many cases, this occurs within the five- to seven-year range and possibly outside of a warranty period. This anomaly attributes to substantial loss in electrical production and associated cost that must be captured or passed on to the electrical consumer. Those who consider employing various forms or methodology of condition monitoring must validate from a business perspective the initial cost of condition monitoring versus run to failure (RTF) and energy cost. You must also factor in that the wind power industry is relatively young in comparison to other energy production sources and, thus, determining initial capital cost, maintenance, and operation scenarios is not an exact science. Wind turbines and wind farms in general can present various and complex challenges due to their remote locations, height above ground, adverse weather conditions, and the fact that as far as the power production demand goes, if a wind turbine should fail, its loss could be absorbed to some extent by other components within the infrastructure. Modern industry demands maintaining and monitoring bearings, gear systems, pumps, and hydraulic applications to any component that may require a vigilant proactive system and methodology to manage cost, reduce consumption, and reduce friction and wear. We must utilize the resulting data to monitor system health while reducing its impact to the environment. Machinery problems and failures are often not attributed to an engineering flaw and design, but rather to the lack of human intervention when indications warn us of an impending failure.

Developing plans and considering factors, such as the following, may prove to be beneficial regarding your condition monitoring program and goals going forward:
• Accept the risk as well as the reward by evaluating your current maintenance and monitoring program. Be willing to change things that are not working.
• Concentrate on factors that you can change and control. Enact good planning.
• Consider continual evaluation of lubrication usage and selection. Are you doing the correct things and getting the best result and return on your investment?
• Are you driven by circumstances, or are you in control?
• Consider benchmarking performance before and after the process. Are your efforts producing results?
• Establish organizational goals and objectives. Are all members of your team moving in the same direction?
• Ensure a program of sustainability in order to leave a legacy. Are you providing training for your team and preparing them to be in a better position than you were in?  
• Prevent falling back into previous methods of business and maintain consistency.
• Grasp the power of momentum and seize opportunities. Early wins will motivate and propel you to new heights.
• Understand how to communicate change and its potential results. Be willing to take the time to establish accountability and credibility.

By building on these steps and adding to your existing program, you can be well on your way to achieving your goals. Failure does not have to be an option when you are in control. Use tools, systems, and experiences from lessons learned to work smarter, not harder.