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The Digital Wind Worker: 3 Steps to Closing the IoT Loop

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a hot topic in the wind industry these days, and for good reason. Unplanned downtime typically accounts for more than 50 percent of a wind project’s operations and maintenance costs. A catastrophic gearbox failure can result in significant labor and crane mobilization and extensive downtime across several days. Repairing this gearbox uptower through predictive analytics can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in avoided replacement costs and lost revenue. Multiply those savings across a wind farm, or fleet, and you have a compelling business case.

Several IoT startups recently descended on the American Wind Energy Association Project O&M and Safety Conference for a series of “Shark Tank” sessions. They pitched their companies and the role of machine learning and domain analytics in predictive analytics that identify impending failures — or prevent them before they occur. My favorite “Shark Tank” moment, however, was not a provocative counteroffer or a dramatic “I’m out,” but rather a pointed critique: IoT providers were “neglecting to tie insights to action.” Failure to specify how IoT systems connect to workflows, the presenter argued, was a major mistake for companies trying to reduce wind turbine downtime.

The wind industry’s leading operators acknowledge that large potential exists for improving the execution of wind field work:

  • Reducing turbine visits, tower climbs and the time spent in turbines
  • Giving technicians the information they need before they arrive onsite
  • Scheduling crews more efficiently
  • Leveraging technician knowledge to improve operations
  • And, in general, simply making techs’ lives easier.

These were common refrains across wind companies, and like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle they provide the outlines of a “Digital Wind Worker” vision.

Companies seeking a Digital Wind Worker strategy should start with the understanding that, when it comes to optimizing service delivery, it’s best to go with purpose-built solutions. As Melissa Stark of Deloitte put it, “The system of record does not have to be the system of engagement.” Systems designed for managing asset and work information are not optimized for executing that work in the way that “field-born” field service management (FSM) systems are.

ServiceMax for Wind Power

The second piece of a Digital Wind Worker strategy is determining how a FSM system will integrate to your other key applications. These applications may include Asset Performance Management (APM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), as well as wind-specific tools for functionality such as scheduling or checklists. Done right, this alignment of “horizontal” FSM capability with “vertical” industry needs can raise your service game with minimal disruption. The third part of the Digital Wind Worker is where emerging technologies come in. Wind service is a fertile space for innovation, from autonomous drone inspection to more efficient turbine climbing technology. Tying these technologies, and their data, into service delivery platforms will further feed the insights-action cycle.

The importance of the insight-action linkage has not been lost on GE, which has been devoting significant resources to integrate its two industrial apps — Predix ServiceMax Field Service and Predix Asset Performance Management — to set in motion the virtuous cycle of more proactive service and more accurate asset models. Connecting alerts to work orders, linking asset maintenance strategies and feeding back failure and service data — these are the “nuts and bolts” of tying insights to action. At the end of the day, the full benefit of an IoT-driven alert will only be realized if tied to a system for executing the necessary work.

The Digital Wind Worker concept is new, but it is catching on with high-growth industry leaders. We recently began working with a leading wind independent service provider tasked with tripling its revenues over the next three years. This company sought our help to address pain points around scheduling, parts management, and digital work order debrief and invoicing.

At the AWEA conference, we met a growing number of companies that are also looking to, as one major operator has phrased it, “bring a field service mindset” to their wind operations.

We’re excited to help them lift wind services to even greater heights.

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