Servicing wind turbines is by no means a typical field service job. Technicians who repair wind turbines need not only skills and technical knowledge but a willingness to work 270 feet in the air.

That is, unless the repair requires that the gearbox be taken apart, in which case a crane brings the 36,000-pound gearbox down to the ground. To avoid having to hire a crane, General Electric recently introduced its Global Wind Turbine Drivetrain Repair Innovation Lab to explore how techs can do more repairs at the top of the turbine, or “uptower.” The main goal of the Albany-based lab is to reduce the cost of the crane, which is added to the customer’s bill and usually costs between $100,000 and $250,000, according to Greg Thomas, a GE engineer.

Engineers Create New Solutions to Reduce Costs

Typically, wind turbines need to be serviced 4.8 times per month, according to The Daily Gazette. That potentially adds up to $1.2 million each month for just operating the crane. Since GE’s lab opened in February, engineers have been working to develop innovative technologies to improve their ability to service and repair turbines.

Say a high-speed bearing needs to be repaired. The actual cost of the repair is $20,000 but with a crane, that cost could tally up to 13 times that amount. Since the part is small and easy to access, the repair can easily be done uptower with the innovative strategies that the GE lab is working on.

“The industry needs uptower repair to really reduce the cost and save both the owners and consumers money,” Jeff Wiener, GE Wind Service sales leader, told The Daily Gazette. “Every turbine owner and wind farm operator is interested in it because if you can do it without the crane, you just saved yourself a lot of money. So that’s why we’re trying to be on the leading edge with this new facility.”

Inside the innovation lab, the engineers use the seven gearboxes from different turbines, 20-ton crane, robotic welding tools and 3D printers for prototypes to simulate solving issues uptower. While not all repairs can happen uptower, the engineers in the lab hope that most issues can be fixed so either no crane or a smaller one can handle the job.

It’s all about finding a more efficient, productive way to repair wind turbines. GE’s innovation lab definitely won’t be the only one trying to tackle field service problems in an innovative way.