A good wind technician needs to be part Spiderman, part Yoda. A wind technician’s job responsibilities include climbing hundreds of feet to get to the top of a wind tower while carrying heavy tools and equipment, then repairing highly complex (and large) equipment while suspended 200 feet above the ground strapped into a safety harness – that’s the Spiderman part of the job. On any given day, wind technicians can drive for hours to get from the O&M building where parts and tooling are stored to the turbine they are scheduled to work on. They may get to the worksite and discover they have the wrong parts or the wind turbine crane that is needed for maintenance operations is not onsite – this is where the patience of Yoda comes into play.
Being a wind turbine technician requires a unique combination of physical stamina and advanced technical skills. A wind turbine technician empowered with the right information and the right tools can positively impact maintenance outcomes and the operator’s bottom line. The following are three strategies that Operations & Maintenance managers can implement to ensure their technicians have a productive and stress-free day.
1. Start with a Good Maintenance Strategy
The objective of every wind farm operator is to maximize the useful life of their assets in order to drive bottom-line profitability. Turbine monitoring along with preventive and predictive maintenance schedules allow operators to minimize unplanned downtime and optimize operation and maintenance costs.
A comprehensive maintenance plan needs to include information about the asset’s maintenance history and schedule, combined with targeted data about what maintenance events are covered by Warranty, Service Contracts, or Preventive Maintenance Plans. A good plan should also contain all the information the Operations & Maintenance team needs to proactively define what maintenance is needed and how much time needs to go by between maintenance intervals.
Sensors located on each turbine capture data about turbine performance that allow O&M teams to remotely monitor, detect, diagnose, and repair issues. Triggers from connected assets generate work requests that alert controllers of anomalies that need investigation. When remote triage is not successful, the same work request is escalated to quickly dispatch a field technician to the site to execute repairs.
Good visibility into asset history and preventive and predictive maintenance schedules combined with data from connected assets gives planners the tools they need to dynamically adjust maintenance intervals based on real-time data. Schedulers can be more efficient in planning a field technician’s daily schedule based on a 360-degree view of the maintenance activities that need to be performed on any given asset. For technicians, this translates to less time spent traveling from one asset to the next and a reduction in call-outs for emergency repairs or false alarms.
2. Plan Outages Carefully
Once O&M managers have defined maintenance scope and timing, tactical outage planning can begin. Planners can leverage asset data to ensure they have the right parts on hand to execute an outage based on the wind turbine’s configuration and previous maintenance history. Spare parts can represent up to 40% of overall O&M costs. Making more accurate inventory stocking decisions and avoiding last minute emergency part shipments based on visibility to preventive and predictive maintenance scopes can make a large impact to an operator’s bottom line.
Wind technicians generally start out their day at an O&M building located on the wind farm. Here they are given their daily work assignment and they pick up parts, tooling, and a van before driving to the job site. If technicians arrive onsite with all the equipment they need, work can begin on time — this avoids the frustration of a long drive back to the O&M building and helps avoid cost overruns from schedule delays and repeat visits.
Planners can also schedule resources such as outage-specific tooling, rental cranes, and vans to support field work. With good visibility into maintenance scopes and clarity on outage start and end dates, planners can avoid costly delays caused by the late arrival of tooling or equipment.
One example of the difference a good maintenance scope can make is in the scheduling of the crane needed to support certain outage activities such as moving heavy equipment in and out of the nacelle. Renting a crane can cost tens of thousands of dollars per day. Scheduling the crane to arrive on-site just in time to support only those maintenance activities that require the use of a crane can save tens of thousands of dollars in crane rental fees. And from the technician’s perspective, good planning of crane-related activities eliminates the frustration of showing up to a job site only to discover the outage needs to be rescheduled due to equipment delays.
3. Give Wind Technicians the Tools They Need to Get the Job Done
If you ask a field technician, they will tell you that the best part of their job is making customers happy. If you ask them what stands between them and meeting their customers’ expectations, they will usually point to three things:
Access to Information
Technicians frequently complain that they don’t have easy access to product information while working in the field. This causes frustration and slows them down in work execution. Technicians want user-friendly mobile tools where they can access asset-specific product documentation, turbine history, and contract and warranty information. They want visibility to the outage work scope and checklists where they can easily debrief their work. With these tools, technicians can carry out their job efficiently and provide structured, quality data back to operations that will ultimately help improve product reliability and uptime.
Access to Training
Wind technicians repair technologically complex machines in a challenging work environment. Technicians want access to targeted technical training specific to the assets they service; they want to be able to stay up to date with product advances; and they want EHS and safety training so they can do their job without putting their safety at risk. Providing regular access to quality training gives technicians the skills they need to support better equipment outcomes.
Access to Experts
When problems or questions arise in the field, especially in remote environments such as wind farms, technicians want access to experienced technical resources who can support them. Requests can include anything from technical product queries to assistance in ordering parts to warranty or service contract clarifications. Enabling technicians with mobile technology that allows them to communicate with technical support teams in real time can make the difference in keeping an outage on schedule and a turbine operational.
In addition, alternating technicians between field work and remote technical support operations can be a good way for techs to recharge their batteries while at the same time continuing to provide valuable maintenance support to their colleagues in the field. It can also be a good way to keep older, more experienced workers who no longer want to work in the field on staff to provide mentorship to newer, less experienced technicians.
Wind technology is evolving at a fast pace, and advances will continue to make a wind technician’s job easier. Enabling technicians with the right knowledge and user-friendly tools can have a positive impact on morale and job satisfaction. Future technicians may still need Spiderman’s climbing skills, but they will no longer require the patience of Yoda to do their jobs and can instead focus their efforts on doing what they do best—repairing turbines.
If you want to learn more about field technicians and their needs, check out these resources:
- Sumair Dutta’s Technician Advice To CSOs
- Dwight Macon’s tips to technicians so they can eat lunch before 3pm