Lower auction prices and a looming transition to merchant pricing is making the wind energy industry reconsider how it will not only optimise turbine performance, but also reduce operational costs in the long term. The rapid and ongoing digitalisation of the industry offers hope for improved performance management, as wind farm owners and their operating teams explore the mountain of data produced by their increasingly digitised hardware. On the upside, more data and greater digitalisation should lead to better maintained and higher performing wind turbines. However, on the downside, piles of data and the technology to handle it can lead to data overload for O&M teams and (at least temporarily) paralysis by analysis.
Reliability centred maintenance focuses on optimising each and every maintenance decision in order to maximise the health, performance, and ultimately returns of a given wind turbine and its wind farm. However, with so much data available to collect, process and analyse, the challenge for owners lies in sorting the signal from the noise to making sure each maintenance decision is the right one, on its own merits, and in the context of the whole fleet. The range of data sets and questions operations teams need to consider in their decision making is now close to overwhelming, but it all needs to be understood, without losing site of the need to deliver profitable returns to the wind farm owner.
In a global market place, with a growing pipeline of large and complex offshore wind farms increasing the cost of even simple maintenance activities, getting O&M decisions right is vital for avoiding waste.
What is Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM)?
An RCM programme is a partnership between maintenance technicians and turbine engineers, involving an assessment of all maintenance tasks and recommendations on how each process can be improved. The implementation of recommendations and subsequent actions can work in a virtuous loop. Once the recommendations have been actioned by the maintenance team, they can be reviewed and assessed to verify the time and cost savings they deliver and further iterated.
The assessment stage of an RCM programme takes in the full scope of the maintenance programme of a wind turbine, drawing on maintenance manuals and past maintenance activity on the turbine. Each task in this database can then be ranked based on how far it can be optimized. As well as observations of the up-tower processes involved, engineers will conduct a cost analysis of each task and review all data in the CMMS, including work orders and hours to identify inefficiencies. The success of any previous maintenance regimes will also be scrutinised.
With so much to consider in this phase of the Reliability Centred Maintenance process, it is important to use the best possible tools. The process will be powered by digitalisation to allow the assessment of the vast database of actions and past events to be thoroughly mined to provide recommendations on optimisation. At the same time, expertise and knowledge is paramount to the process. When ONYX’s own engineers engage in the RCM process, they are drawing on a ten-year track record in digital innovation covering hardware, software and analytical methods, as well as engineering support for more than 40GW of installed energy capacity.
Why do I need it?
The goal of adopting an RCM programme is to improve profitability, by realising savings through the improved predictive maintenance, better O&M practices, and a reduction in in scheduled and unscheduled OPEX costs.
The improvements to processes delivered under an RCM programme can result in significant savings. In a recent example, in which ONYX InSight was called in by a major utility with 1000 wind turbines, ONYX InSight was able to realise savings of $3.6m over a five-year period.
Across more than 170 annual tasks, and 80 other tasks occurring at longer intervals, ONYX InSight was able to identify improvements and savings to help the utility. Classified into low, medium and high opportunities for realising savings, the process identified 21 major tasks that offered a high opportunity for improvement. Focused on individual tasks, the opportunities included $8,000 of savings on electrical parts and $5,500 of savings on lubrication per turbine, over a five-year period.
Reliability centred maintenance helps owners move from time-based to condition-based maintenance to optimise part inventories and reduce replacement costs; it also improves failure detection leading to less overall turbine damage and higher production. By optimising maintenance tasks to combine repairs and reduce the number of tower climbs, and higher availability. Finally, improved diagnostics also reduce unplanned maintenance and repair incidents, significantly reducing overall OPEX costs.
Driven by data that allows engineers to identify and aggregate potential savings from small changes to the maintenance regime on a wind farm, Reliability Centred Maintenance is a great example of how owner operator maintenance teams can work hand in hand with service providers to better understand their fleet to improve performance and ultimately returns.