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 Rick Brooks

How to Battle the ‘Fog of War’ with Condition Monitoring

2/22/2011 8:00:00 AM | Sustainable Solutions for Wind Energy | Comments | Rick Brooks |

In recent years, the drive in wind energy toward greater efficiency and overall power output has understandably focused mostly on component and system design improvements. For many years, traditional process industries applications have used proactive maintenance strategies and technologies that strive to achieve increased uptime and overall performance improvements through a balance of preventive and corrective actions. In these industries, repairs are planned based on accurate knowledge of current machine condition. Conversely, for a variety of both technical and commercial reasons, the wind energy market has been hesitant to broadly apply the same proven technologies and methods.

I like to compare maintenance strategy to fighting a battle. The famous Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz first coined the term “fog of war.” This refers to the impact that varying levels of operational intelligence throughout the command structure have on a battle, much like the way that fog would obscure one’s vision across the landscape.

For example, a sergeant leading a squad would have a very limited view of the entire battle. A colonel directing the engagement would have a broader view. However, he could inadvertently make decisions that might hurt the overall war effort. Lastly, the general, far behind the lines, would certainly understand the battle’s greater context in the war but his decisions would lack the vital first-hand information of that same sergeant.

Now, consider a maintenance crew when they are up tower to do a repair. The maintenance manager of an individual wind farm would serve as the “colonel” from our scenario, above. The central operations director of an energy company would substitute as our “general."

Consequently, the “fog of war” in wind turbine maintenance and operations can be a major cause of poor performance. The problem begins with incomplete and untimely data on the mechanical condition of individual wind turbine components. Systemic poor communication between operations and maintenance contributes to the situation. These factors combine with the lack of a comprehensive maintenance plan to result in poor business decisions and therefore longer investment payback time.

A key tactic for overcoming the wind turbine “fog of war” is condition monitoring. The inaccessibility of the wind turbine requires monitoring via a remote online system. This way, the data can be transmitted back to a central data center for analysis. Plus, a well planned application of predictive technology, such as vibration analysis, can provide the information for corrective maintenance long before a component failure causes a loss of power generation. In other words, condition monitoring can act as the “front-line sergeant,” thus providing the battlefield intelligence necessary for the “general” to plan the war, resulting in increased uptime.

All the data in the world will not help improve performance if it is not used with a decision-making process that is a strategic fit with an operational model. Data analysis from an online condition monitoring system will alert you to a developing mechanical problem on a turbine. Then the decision of what to do and when to do it should already be made by your established maintenance policies. Only by combining good tactical intelligence with prudent strategic planning will you be able to secure your assumed investment and thus win the war of wind turbine profitability.

Timken is ready to assist you with differentiated world-class, online condition monitoring technology for wind turbines. Our technology is coupled with the expertise to help you interpret the data. However, we want to go beyond providing you tools. Timken can partner with you to develop a comprehensive systemic approach to improved reliability, uptime and profit.

Do you have a comprehensive maintenance strategy in place that utilizes machine condition information to make decisions?



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