Taking gadgets and appliances apart to see how they functioned is something that Rob Budny enjoyed doing since he was a kid. Budny is currently the Chief Reliability Officer and a Co-founder at Ensemble Energy, a predictive analytics company. He previously served as the President at RBB Engineering, a consulting firm that provides rotating-machinery engineering services. The firm’s largest sector served is wind (think gears, bearings, and gearboxes).
“I was a very curious child,” Budny shares. “I always wondered why things were done in certain ways, and how they could be done better. I loved taking things apart, and eventually my mom had to start placing her kitchen appliances in places that I couldn’t reach because when I took things apart, I didn’t always put them back together correctly.”
That did little to deter Budny, and it was no surprise when he decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, or began his career in the aerospace industry. He started as a design engineer and stress and fatigue analyst for Lockheed-Martin and Northrop Grumman. In 2005, he switched fields and worked his way up to manager of mechanical engineering at a large wind-turbine manufacturer. Until 2013, when he launched RBB Engineering, Budny designed and engineered turbine components, such as the generator, gearbox, and pitch and yaw systems.
“I grew up idolizing my grandfather, who was a diesel mechanic, carpenter, and the smartest person I ever knew,” said Budny. “He inspired me to become an engineer, and I’m grateful for that. Wind is such an interdisciplinary sector. To fully understanding how turbines work and make them operate better, it is important to gain knowledge of aerodynamics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials, and computer science.”
Budny also credits his dad for his curiosity and ambition to learn. “My dad worked in the Air force, so I grew up overseas in places such as Turkey, Germany, and the Philippines. My imagination was spurred, I think, by living in so many places that were so different in many ways,” he said.
His imagination and a good measure of determination, further spurred Budny to develop and launch predictive analytics company, Ensemble Energy, with co-founder Dr. Sandeep Gupta. Gupta is a 15-year wind veteran and expert on turbine controls, loads analysis, and performance optimization.
“The main challenges for wind operators today are increasing operational efficiency, reducing O&M costs, and increasing energy production. As the wind industry matures, these goals become increasingly difficult to obtain. We thought we could help,” said Budny.
Ensemble Energy uses advanced machine-learning algorithms to improve the efficiency and production of wind farms, a feature that impressed a team of wind judges at AWEA’s annual O&M and Safety Conference in San Diego in late February. At the event, AWEA held its own version of the reality TV series, Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs are given a chance to present their ideas for venture capital. AWEA’s version focused on wind analytics developers, and Ensemble Energy took home the win.
“The response from the wind industry has been outstanding, and our Shark Tank win provides further validation and confirmation of the value of our approach,” said Budny. “Gupta and I believe that combining machine learning and artificial intelligence with wind-turbine expertise is key to increasing wind-farm efficiencies and required for the wind industry to grow and thrive.”
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