RENEW Energy’s R&D Department

It’s been said that if you want something done well, you’ve got to do it yourself and that’s exactly what RENEW Energy’s R&D Department does on a daily basis to provide technicians with safer, more efficient working conditions.

“RENEW’s R&D program has two objectives,” said Curt Eliason, the VP of Remanufacturing/R&D with RENEW. “One is on improving reliability on current wind turbine component designs, and the second is developing very unique and creative ways of performing repair.”

Whether it focuses on in-the-field type situations or problems in the shop, the goal is to find creative ways to fix turbines in a manner that promotes safety, efficiency and, ultimately, lowers the cost of maintenance and the cost of energy produced.

To do this, Eliason said he asks himself and his team a series of questions.

“On the repair side of things, can we eliminate a bunch of costs by reducing the downtime?” he asked. “Can we reduce or eliminate a crane that’s needed to replace these components?”

Eliason said the traditional way to repair a turbine is to remove the entire component from the tower, which requires lowering it down, shipping it to a facility to be repaired, and then putting it back up. This becomes an expensive project when it comes to costs for cranes, labor, and logistics.

“So,” he wondered, “can we repair this up-tower, in place? For component improvement, that’s maybe a little more straightforward, because on the fieldwork side of things, we’re developing tools and processes that do not exist. We’re not only starting from a blank sheet of paper with a new design; the tools don’t exist. You can’t open a catalogue or Google it and find what you need.”

So, the R&D development literally invents the equipment it needs and then develops the processes in which to use it.

“We’ve been awarded several patents for what we’ve been able to develop as far as tooling and procedures,” Eliason stated. “And I think that speaks to our creativity and outside the box thinking. So many times over the course of my 25 year career, I’ve heard people say, when I present a new idea or a colleague presents a new idea, ‘Oh, that can’t be; that’s impossible.’ And it’s like this switch goes off and I say, ‘Okay, game on.’ If we’re given a challenge, I’m just driven to come up with a solution.”

And RENEW’s R&D Department has come up with many solutions.

Such was the case with a Gearbox Model that was becoming problematic for technicians.

“On one specific Gearbox Model that’s a very common model within the industry, they had a problem with a bearing spinning within the housing,” Eliason detailed. “When that happened, the outer part of the bearing needed to stay stationary while the inner part spun. But over time, that outer part would start to spin and it would wear material off the bore where the bearing was mounted. It would cause a lot of destruction and it was a very expensive repair.”

Eliason said that many different people were trying to figure out how to solve this problem; how to fix it and make the problem go away. And none of the ideas were working.

“I said we need to fix this the correct way, so we developed machine tools that we could take up the tower with other supporting equipment that would allow us to disassemble the gear box and perform the repair up tower,” Eliason said. “There’s just a lot of complexity in that process, and it was accepted by the market and the owner of these types of assets. It was a solution; not just a short-term band-aid. It was a long term, permanent fix. And it’s performed well. It’s met all of our expectations but, more importantly, it’s met our customer’s expectations. And it’s done so as a qualified, reliable repair that’s much cheaper than removing the gear box entirely from service and sending it to a workshop. So that’s one method that has really helped us prove our worth; it’s been an accepted repair method that nobody else is doing today.”

Eliason was quick to point out that this is his life’s work; it’s what he loves to do. But, he said, he’s far from the only person who has made RENEW’s R&D Department what it is today.

“I may contribute a little bit, but to make everything come together on the design, on the proof of concept, on the fabrication…to make these tools you have to be a certified welder and really know what you’re doing with some kind of exotic steel blends that are super strong, lightweight, and durable,” Eliason said. “The fabrication process is another good example of the higher-level skill that it takes to make an idea come together, as well as the testing, and training, and application of usage. It really is a team effort and I’m humbled to associate with such a talented group of people.” RENEW Energy’s R&D Department proves that there’s no ‘I’ in team. It also proves that if you want something done well, you should do it yourself…or bring it to R&D.

RENEW Technical Training Program

You’ve heard of on-the-job training, but RENEW is taking that phrase to a whole ‘nother level.

RENEW has implemented a training regimen for its technicians that results in better, safer work and higher morale among employees. This Technical Training Program is a 3-part training system designed to help technicians retain information and continue to develop the skills necessary to maintain our commitment to safety and our exemplary track record.

“The Senior Management Group and the managers at RENEW wanted to create something that would address the day-to-day operations that our technicians were going through,” said Brett Citrowske, Director of Training for RENEW. “We met with our managers and lead techs of projects and asked them what they expected technicians to know within the first six months of being here. And then we built out what we call a Training Matrix, which has very highly specific technical criteria for what is expected from an individual as they go from a Tech 0, or a Trainee Level, to a Tech 3, which is more of a Lead Technician Level.”

The training matrix is made up of different quadrants that focus on a variety of training materials. It utilizes both online training courses and practical, hands-on objectives. Course work includes information on nomenclature and identifying basic tools, understanding drivetrain anatomy and wind turbine anatomy, signaling, rigging, fasteners, torquing, and more. These are all subjects that technicians work on or with on a daily basis.

A big component of the Technical Training Program is the fact that as technicians continue to learn, improve, and progress in the matrix, they are compensated each time they move from one level to another.

“One of the nice things about the program is that when an employee increases their competency through completing the training, there’s a direct compensational increase tied along with that, because they become even safer on the job and they know how to use the tools and the processes that are required,” Citrowske stated.

Offering that compensational increase has resulted in technicians being even more eager to complete the training program because, in layman’s terms, the more they learn, the more they earn.

“Since utilizing this training program, we’ve noticed a dramatic increase in correct terminology, and better understanding with our new hires,” Citrowske stated. “Our managers have said that, through our increased training that we’re doing now, in person and the technical training courses; they have noticed that the individuals that typically excel in the training program are those individuals that are going to be our heavy hitters in the future.”

Citrowske said that the rate in which technicians are able to move up in the program ranges from person to person but that, on average, a tech can progress from a Tech 0 to a Tech 1 in six to eight months, from a Tech 1 to a Tech 2 in approximately 10-12 months, and from a Tech 2 to a Tech 3 in anywhere from one to two years.

“The minimum amount of time somebody could go from the base level to that foreman level would be around two years or a little above that,” he said.

This Technical Training Program is innovative for a myriad of reasons, and it has resulted in higher morale and even safer job sites.

“This training program is not something that we purchased from another company,” Citrowske stated. “We actually made the training materials. We shot the videos, we put together the presentations; we made all of that intracompany. Not only was the curriculum conceptualized with the matrix; we created all of the material internally as well, to make it hyper-focused on our task objectives. And it has been a success.”

Ergonomics at RENEW Energy

At RENEW Energy, safety is our number one priority in all aspects of the job. This is true for RENEW, as well as our sister companies (TP&L, GSS, and Airway Services) and, because of that, we have a strong focus on ergonomics. Ergonomics, according to an OSHA definition, is “designing a job to fit the worker so the work is safer and more efficient.”

Making sure our technicians are safe and efficient is our biggest goal, which is why we spend so much time focusing on various safety aspects of the job, including material handling, body positioning, and ergonomics.

RENEW Energy recently adopted a new standard for safety training, called the Global Wind Organization Basic Safety Training (GWO BST). There are many aspects of this safety training, and it focuses on several different areas, such as first aid and CPR, fire awareness, performing safe work at various heights, and manual handling.

“This training gives us the ability to have some dedicated time to talk to technicians about how to position your body [on a job],” said Brett Citrowske, Director of Training. “Because when you’re climbing up 300 feet in the air, when you’re carrying around or moving around very heavy objects, when you’re working with cranes that are lifting components that are ten to twenty to thirty thousand pounds apiece, you have to 1) know how to position yourself correctly and 2) know when to get out of the way.”

Citrowske said that when technicians are working on a tower, and something goes wrong, the natural instinct is to try and fix it themselves; whether that’s trying to stop a gearbox from swinging, grabbing at a chain that is falling over the edge of a tower, or something else. That natural instinct is to try and stop those things, but 200-pound technicians are no match for 30,000-pound gearboxes.

“The other thing that we’ve been seeing is that, especially with new employees, they want to please so much that they will do things to sacrifice themselves in order to try to complete a mission or a job,” Citrowske stated.

The purpose of the GWO BST is to instill proper safety procedures in technicians, ensuring they know what they can or cannot, and should or should not do while on the job.
“We’ve been teaching this manual handling on how to position yourself when you’re climbing, when you’re working, when you’re down tower, even when you’re off the job…to position yourself in such a way that you don’t cause injuries.”

There are many working parts that go into making RENEW Energy the industry leader in wind energy solutions. But the most important part of our company is our employees, which is why trainings like the GWO BST is so pivotal.

“The number one asset that we have is our people,” Citrowske said. “You can replace vehicles, you can replace gearboxes, you can replace a lot of things. But our people are the most important asset. They are irreplaceable.”