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Digitalisation In Action: a Q&A with Alberto Daloli, Managing Director, ERG Germany

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We recently interviewed Alberto Daloli, Managing Director, ERG Germany about the challenges the wind industry is facing with regard to digitalisation, and how  ONYX InSight is helping ERG to go digital without the pain. Daloli shared with us his vision for ERG, his main priorities and objectives when it comes to O&M of wind energy assets, and the challenges faced by the company’s inspection and maintenance teams on a daily basis.

How extensive is the ERG Germany wind turbine fleet? How many different technologies does it encompass?

ERG Germany has 500-600MW of wind farms under technical management, 216MW of which is from our own wind turbines. We have 117 turbines across 17 wind farms, made up of a range of models from all of the major manufacturers like Siemens, GE, Vestas and Enercon. We essentially have the whole spectrum of wind turbines in our German fleet – it’s a huge technological mix. It’s great because the variety means we’re always learning something new.

Maintenance-wise, our main focus is currently on our Vestas V80 and V90 turbines and in the near future also on our Neg Micon models.

As we continue our development, ERG Germany will be starting to build new projects from the end of July, which means that in about 6-7 months’ time we will have brand new GE turbines spinning on our wind farms.

What challenges do your inspection and maintenance teams face on a daily basis?

For our technical managers conducting inspections, the focus is always on safety, how maintenance is being carried out, what could have been done better, and how we can improve the way we maintain our turbines. This is what we have been using fieldPRO for.

For our technicians conducting maintenance, again there is a large focus on safety, but there is a motivation to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Scheduling maintenance isn’t so much of a problem for us because we can do it during a low wind period, for example. By performing the maintenance ourselves, we have more control and flexibility to be able to push the job back by a day if the conditions aren’t right to be able to do it in the safest or most efficient way possible.

The main issue that I’d like to solve in the next year is the time spent reporting turbine performance using the SAP system. In Germany we have 6 technicians across 3 warehouses, which means technicians do everything from sourcing materials, to performing turbine maintenance, to data entry. But their focus should be on the turbines, not on the data management. Technicians have been known to return to the warehouse from a job and spend hours recording data, but it’s not an efficient use of their time.

Shifting from this time-consuming reporting style to a digitalised platform is necessary and has a big impact on the role of our inspection and maintenance technicians. But of course, learning how to use and get comfortable with a new piece of technology takes time. As a team, we will learn and evolve towards a more digital culture as the benefits of it are realised.

How important is digitalising O&M for you and your team?

On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s certainly a 7 or an 8.

By digitalising, ERG can focus more on the things that we need to, like actually maintaining the turbines. Having that knowledge of what is happening inside the turbines readily available in an easy to understand report is really important. Digitalising our data means that we can create a history of what’s going on in each turbine in a much more efficient way, which is really valuable.

What would you say the key steps are to digitalising data and the operations and maintenance process?

I think it all starts with the technicians. We have to start using digital reporting approaches and get into the culture of doing this day-to-day. There are definitely some mindset changes that need to happen when you migrate from pen and paper to a digital system.

The fieldPRO software has made the transition straightforward, because it’s designed with turbine technicians in mind. It only required minimal customising to meet our needs, so we could quickly start using it to build our database. Once we’ve built up enough data, we can start to see what’s happening inside the turbines and make calculations based on that.

Digitalisation is a really important step forward for turbine maintenance.

Until you started using fieldPRO, what systems were you using to collect and manage your inspection data? What were the limitations of these approaches?

We were very far away from the digital world. ERG used pen and paper to record data and a spreadsheet to track and monitor it – really time consuming, manual stuff. The most ‘digital’ we became before using this new technology was to take a picture of a turbine fault or issue and upload it to the computer. But, after a whole day out conducting wind turbine repair and maintenance, you don’t really want to have to come back to the office and sit typing everything up.

There was also a challenge with managing this data. We had the data history, but we couldn’t make comparisons or conduct detailed analysis on it because reports were spread out in hundreds of different files collected by people who might not be undertaking the analysis. It was just difficult and time consuming.

How do your technicians use fieldPRO as part of their daily operations?

We use fieldPRO for both inspections and maintenance on our wind turbines. Version 2.0, with iOS compatibility, is a big step forward, and the fact that you can use it so easily on your phone is very good.

For inspections, we now use fieldPRO on all our wind farms in Germany, and we are also looking at rolling it out for third-party client sites and turbines. The issue there is that a number of our clients want the analytics reports in other languages, but we’re working on it.

For maintenance, we’re currently using fieldPRO on two windfarms in Germany, but we are likely to be rolling it out across the German fleet in the next year. Once we have a better idea of performance, we will be producing a report for our Italian team, at which point they will be able to understand what using fieldPRO company-wide might look like.

How has fieldPRO helped you to change the way you operate?

One of the core benefits of the system is having all our digitalised data on one platform. With all of our inspection data in one report, we can interpret it more easily, which is a real advantage.

Additionally, being able to tell what the issues are across our fleet, and not just on one type of turbine, is really important.

What fieldPRO does is enable ERG to bring all of this information together, and, as we use it for longer, the depth of the analysis we can undertake builds and builds.

Aside from the advantages fieldPRO has for data management, have you seen any wider impact from a commercial perspective?

It’s still early days, so while the benefits of digitalisation for inspection and maintenance are clear, it’s hard to materialise the commercial impact at this stage. One thing that we have seen, though, is that now they don’t have to spend unnecessary time on data entry, technicians have more time in their work day to focus on their vital role of making sure that the repair and maintenance of our turbines is done to optimum efficiency.

As we’ve used the mobile app, we have found little tricks that help us to use it in the most effective way possible. As we keep learning these things and using the app more regularly, I’m sure we will see an improvement in efficiency that translates into a commercial benefit.

Has ERG invested in any wider predictive maintenance (PdM) capabilities?

We have condition monitoring systems (CMS) installed on our turbines and that’s the main currently the main PdM effort at ERG, but we’re investing a lot in our PdM strategy. We’re trying to switch as much as we can to PdM, and we’re happy with the developments being made. With this in place, we can do things better from the beginning and prevent errors before they happen.

Are there any further features that you’d like to see introduced as part of the fieldPRO tool?

Not particularly, it’s a great tool. I believe that we can use it for a number of other applications, like at the construction stage of wind farm development, but also as a management tool.

One thing I’d like to see, however, is to be able to send off the report via email to a colleague once it’s produced. Since I’ve got this detailed report right in front of me, it would be great to be able share this quickly with the team, or if the report is still in draft, send it to a colleague for review.

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