By Denis Hogan, Performance & Special Projects Manager
Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA)
As the wind industry grows and developers contemplate taller turbines that reach stronger winds so, too, does its requirements for safe lifting equipment. Similar to fall-protection gear, tower lifts and cranes must adhere to strict safety standards and OEMs face unique challenges in wind typically unseen in other industries. Of course, working at height comes with inherent risks, but the harsh winds and conditions typical of these project sites add potential hazards.
This compounds the costs of maintenance in a sector where uptime is already a necessity to meet ROIs and maintain energy generation. However, worker safety should be the top priority at every wind site, regardless of missed timelines or lost production days. To minimize downtime, there are a couple of ways to circumvent unplanned maintenance or repairs.
1. Shop smart. Lifting equipment and accessories that may be used in the wind-power sector should be subject to purchasing controls to ensure it:
- Fits its intended purpose
- Conforms to the industry-recognized standards
- Has been obtained from reliable sources
- Will be maintained, serviced, and thoroughly examined on a pre-determined periodic basis to ensure it is fit to remain in service
2. Pre-plan care. At the risk of sounding repetitive, a regular, pre-planned maintenance program is critical for all lifting equipment and accessories, especially because of the environment in which it operates. For example, even onshore wind equipment can be subjected to highly corrosive climates.
Additionally, given that most wind sites are in remote locations, transportation to the wind site may place unexpected stresses on lifting equipment during transit. Therefore, it is crucial to properly evaluate equipment onsite prior to use.
A regular maintenance program should include:
- A thorough inspection of equipment according to the manufacturer’s stipulations and known industry standards
- Tests and checks to ensure equipment is in ideal working order
- Identify faults or damage and plan for repairs
3. Plan ahead. Consider developing a reliable and easy-to-use spare-parts management system to avoid unnecessary delays and costs associated with repairs. This means:
- Ensuring spare parts are available before their needed
- Ideally, obtaining extra parts or equipment from the lift or crane manufacturer
- If it’s impossible to access parts from the OEM, ensure the parts used fully meet the original manufacturer’s specification. When necessary, a full engineering assessment of the part(s) should be carried out to ensure this is the case.
A couple of final points: Many modern lifting equipment structures make use of high-tensile steels. When repairs are carried out to a specific part of the structure, the procedure laid down by the manufacturer should be strictly followed to avoid changing properties of the material.
Additionally, depending on where the wind farm is located, it is important to follow the potential differences in the regulations of that country. For example, there are two key pieces of legislation that apply to all lifting equipment and accessories that may be used in the wind sector in Europe. The Machinery Directive polices the market when equipment is in service. The Work Equipment Directive applies to service, maintenance, repairs, and inspections.
In the United States, standards are typically set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The American Wind Energy Association is also an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) accredited standards development organization for the consensus of wind standards in the country.