Wind Energy and The Case for Mobile Maintenance

We’ve all seen a wind turbine once or twice in our travels. These hulking structures stand in rural fields, on the sides of mountain ranges, or even offshore harnessing natural forms of energy. Wind energy has seen tremendous growth in recent years, with turbines costing less and harvesting more natural energy. Last year turbines produced over 226 terawatt hours of electricity, amounting to over 5 percent of the United States total power production. This growth signifies not only a commitment to renewable energy, but also a growing need for more sophisticated maintenance abilities.

Turbines require periodic maintenance to stay operational, much like other assets an organization might own or operate. Unlike equipment that machines metal or cans food, turbine maintenance faces a unique set of challenges that must be overcome. Although they may not require maintenance as frequently as other assets, maintenance is still an important part of their care.

Asset Access Pains

All maintenance work presents challenges, but service work in the wind energy industry creates some especially difficult working environments. Turbines are large structures requiring ample room to operate. They also need to be in locations free of trees or large buildings so that they can harness wind energy effectively. This requires them to be installed in remote locations, making any scheduled maintenance work a large investment in time and resources.

Foote Creek wind farm

Foote Creek wind farm, located in Arlington, Wyoming

The photo above highlights the remote nature of turbine installations. Once workers are on-site, making a quick trip back to the shop isn’t an easy option. It’s possible, but it’s much more beneficial for everyone involved if said trip can be avoided. Some wind farms are offshore, making access to them even more complicated:

London Array wind farm

The London Array wind farm, located 12 miles off the eastern coast of the United Kingdom

Reaching the top of a turbine presents even more of a challenge. Some newer towers have motorized lifts, but many in use today do not. Instead, ladders inside the tower must be used to climb up and down. With towers reaching heights well over 200 feet, workers are unable to quickly climb up and down. To put this into perspective, below is an uncut video of a worker climbing to the top of a turbine:

Only briefly pausing to readjust safety equipment, it still took nearly 10 minutes for this worker to climb to the top of the tower. Once workers have made a trip up to the top of the tower, there aren’t many situations where they will want to make a trip back down to the ground and up again.

Enter Mobile Maintenance Technology

The benefits of computerized maintenance are well documented but recently mobile technology has gained popularity, and with good reason. Industries (like wind energy) rely on assets in remote locations, sending workers out into an almost isolated environment until they hit a roadblock or finish the job. Equipping crews with mobile technology provides them with several important benefits to help complete jobs faster.

Wind farm service technicians reviewing information on a tablet

Two wind farm service technicians review work information on a rugged tablet PC

Access to Information

Mobile devices like phones and tablets are well established when it comes to keeping people connected to information and maintenance is no exception. Mobile versions of CMMS software on these devices provide field techs with access to work order details, schedule information, and other documents for any given asset an organization owns or operates.

Worker Flexibility

Field work is unpredictable. No matter how well you manage your maintenance efforts, there will be times when the need for unexpected work will occur. When that time comes, providing your workforce with the tools they need to deal with it is essential. Aided by mobile devices, workers can address these unexpected events and respond accordingly by entering new work orders on the fly, researching documents on how to handle it, or even capturing video or images of the issue in question. All of which allows them to be agile enough to adapt to changing demands.

Improved Communication

The process of performing maintenance on a wind turbine requires field workers to put themselves in positions where capturing as much detailed information about asset conditions and the status of work being perform is essential. Finding ways to make this process easier and more efficient means that techs can concentrate on their tasks complete them in less time. Capturing more details also means that managers and planners can gain a much clearer picture of asset conditions and therefore can more accurately plan and schedule work.

Increased Efficiency

Workers servicing wind turbines will spend the majority (if not all) of their day in the field performing various tasks assigned to them. With conventional CMMS software, these techs are unable to update work orders, access schematics or manuals, or document unforeseen maintenance work until they are in a location that allows them access to a computer. Mobile technology provides these workers with tools provide status updates while still in the field. In industries like wind energy, this can prove to be especially valuable for saving time.

Reduced Error

Field techs are human and prone to forgetting things like everyone else. Maybe a technician was originally assigned to perform lubrication on the turbine gearboxes but upon arriving noticed that one of the nacelle access door hinges was cracked. This hinge crack doesn’t impede the technician from performing their tasks, but without an easy way to document this issue it can be forgotten about. Equipped with a tablet or smartphone, this very same worker now is capable of quickly and easily documenting an issue in no time, ensuring that a work order is schedule for it.

CHAMPS Mobile Suite – The Perfect Solution

Mobile Suite is a component of our CMMS software that provides workers in the field with real tools to help make the maintenance process easier. Unlike many solutions on the market today, Mobile Suite provides meaningful functionality that lets workers in the field react and adapt to their environments as well as asset conditions. Integrated work packages, barcode scanning, real-time access to mission critical information, and more are all available at your fingertips with Mobile Suite.

Turbine maintenance is a complex process and not using a mobile maintenance solution only adds to the already tough challenges faced by service technicians. If you are looking to streamline your maintenance efforts, contact us today to learn more about how Mobile Suite can empower your workforce.

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