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.