05 Apr AMSOIL Leading the Way in the Wind Turbine Industry
Amsoil dove into the wind turbine market more than a decade ago for the same reason Amsoil enters in most markets: to solve a problem. At that time, wind farm managers were struggling to find a wind turbine gearbox lubricant capable of delivering superior protection without requiring frequent and expensive lubricant changes. Amsoil, appreciating the challenge, requires an understanding how a wind turbine gearbox works.
Wind Turbine Gearbox 101
If you’ve ever driven past wind farm, you’ve noticed how slowly wind turbine blades turn- typically 10-18 rpm’s. The generator inside the turbine’s nacelle (the housing atop the tower), requires up to 1500 rpm’s to produce the turbines rated power. The gearbox increases rotational speed from the low – rpm turbine blades to the high – rpm electric generator. It uses a variety of planetary gears, helical gears and bearings to accomplish the 1500 rpm’s
All those moving parts must withstand tremendous torque and high speeds while operating in hot, humid, wet environments or subzero temperatures – sometimes all the above throughout the year. Gear lubes can quickly fail in such conditions.
That was the case with the predominant wind turbine gear lube on the market at the time. It tended to absorb moisture, which led to additives separating from the lubricant, called additive dropout. This leads to a form of fatigue failure called micro-pitting that can cause gears to fail. At that time, a wind farm manager could expect 30 to 40% of the gearboxes in his turbines to fail within 3 to 5 years. This is unacceptable considering that, along with crane cost, replacing a wind turbine gearbox cost up to $500,000.
To help prolong gearbox life, managers resorted to frequent gear lube changes – typically every 2 to 3 years. That may not sound unreasonable until you understand the toll of single lubricant change takes. First, the turbine has to be shut down, which reduces profitability, then, a team of trained technicians must then mobilize a specially designed truck capable of pumping the new lubricant to the gearbox up to 300 feet above the ground while draining the old oil. Not only that, the gearbox requires flushing remove contaminants, which adds additional time and complexity. Changing oil in just one gearbox can cost thousands of dollars. Changing oil in every gearbox on a wind farm can quickly become cost prohibitive.
Building A Better Lubricants
Amsoil went to work developing a better gear lubricant. In addition to years of lab testing, the lubricant was installed in seven wind turbines located in the Midwest. The turbines had been using a competitor’s oil and were in rough shape. In fact, the wind farm manager later told us he had expected the gearboxes to fail within six months of testing. Instead, the Amsoil product performed well and the turbines continue running. Amsoil monitored lubricant and turbine performance every month. The process uncovered several costly hurdles to servicing wind farms. For example, personnel must complete safety training, earn certification carry millions of dollars of liability insurance simply to set foot on a wind farm, let alone climb a tower. In addition, wind farm manages expect suppliers to act as technical consultants and help them develop procedures for improving efficiency. Amsoil quickly realize that servicing wind farms requires a team of full-time, specialized experts.
Despite years of severe service, Amsoil lubricants continued performing flawlessly. In total, the lubricant was in use for nine years without being changed and without incident. Recently, the wind farms elected to decommission the seven turbine’s to perform infrastructure upgrades; however, the lubricant was still in great condition and performing well until its final day of use.
Amsoil’s test data impressed the biggest and most prestigious turbine manufacturers in the world. Amsoil has since earned approvals from nearly every major turbine manufacturer in gearbox manufacturer, including Siemens*, Vestas*, Flender*, Nanjing Gear* and ZF*. This was a huge step since wind farm managers won’t use non-approved oils in their turbines given the astronomical cost should something fail. Amsoil gear lube is also the factory filled for one of the world’s largest turbine manufacturers, as well as the run-in oil at nearly every major gearbox OEM that supplies the global wind industry. Amsoil continue to work towards earning more factory-fill agreements. Amsoil products are now installed in nearly 50% of all wind turbines in the United States in addition to turbines in Europe, China, India, Brazil and more. Amsoil is proud to say that Amsoil products have never cause gearbox failure. That’s a tremendous achievement considering the state of the industry prior to our arrival
What’s in it for Amsoil Dealers?
- Increased expertise influences all Amsoil products
The insights Amsoil learned going from its involvement in the wind industry, influence additional product formulations. For example, Amsoil applied advanced chemistry of our wind turbine gear lubricant to the passenger cars light-truck market via SEVERE GEAR synthetic Gear Lube. The chemistry that impressed the toughest critics in one of the world’s most demanding industries influence the chemistry in each easy-pack of SEVERE GEAR. Developing and testing synthetic technology in wind turbines build our knowledge and help us continue to improve our full line of world-class synthetic lubricants.
- Brand Validation
Amsoil’s leadership role in the wind industry strengthens the Amsoil brand and helps validate our efforts in the field. Additionally, it shows that our size and influence is larger than some people think. Prospects and customers will know that the biggest and most prestigious manufacturers in the industry selected Amsoil from all the lubricant manufacturers in the world to develop the gear lube for their gearboxes. Amsoil lubricants are installed in nearly 50% of the US wind turbines. This level of credibility speaks volumes about our product quality. If Amsoil synthetic lubricants perform well in wind turbines, imagine how well they perform other vehicles and equipment.
- Improves Company Image
Many customers actively look for companies that support sustainability. By servicing renewable energy assets and maintaining a leadership role in the industry, Amsoil image is strengthened which reflects well upon Amsoil dealers.
- Helps Keep Costs Down
A single wind farm can require thousands of gallons of lubricants. To meet demand, Amsoil purchase increase volumes of raw materials at a time, helping reduce purchasing costs. Manufacturing to meet increased demand also leads to greater production efficiency, which further holes costs in check and we pass the savings onto dealers and customers.