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Crane-less Wind Turbine Repair Solutions with LiftWerx

In this episode, Glenn Aiken and Eelko May from LiftWerx share how their pioneering, crane-less wind turbine repair solutions are transforming the industry with cost-effective, eco-friendly, and efficient approaches to major component exchanges and offshore wind maintenance. Visit https://liftwerx.com/ for more!

Sign up now for Uptime Tech News, our weekly email update on all things wind technology. This episode is sponsored by Weather Guard Lightning Tech. Learn more about Weather Guard’s StrikeTape Wind Turbine LPS retrofit. Follow the show on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin and visit Weather Guard on the web. And subscribe to Rosemary Barnes’ YouTube channel here. Have a question we can answer on the show? Email us!

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Allen Hall: Welcome to the special edition of the Uptime Wind Energy Podcast. I’m your host, Allen Hall, along with my co host, Joel Saxum. Today, we’re joined by Glenn Aiken, president and co founder at LiftWerx, and Elke May, managing director at LiftWerx. Based in Canada, LiftWerx is leading the way in developing craneless wind turbine repair systems.

As many of Turbine repairs have traditionally depended upon large cranes that are difficult to transport and are vulnerable to wind delays. And this is where LiftWork comes in because they are disrupting the status quo. They have pioneered ingenious smaller lifting solutions that are cost effective, efficient, and eco friendly.

Glenn and Eelko welcome to the program. Thanks, Al. Yeah, thanks very much, Al. So as we all know doing major component exchanges is a difficult task. And, or doing a rotor removing the rotor, those kinds of things usually involves massive cranes. And in the United States, and even in Europe times getting a hold of a crane big enough to do the job is one expensive and two, usually there’s a narrow window when you can actually get access to that crane.

This is where LiftWerx comes in and I really want to hear about, it’s really a couple of different things you’re working on. Obviously the gen hook and the rotor hook, but now you’re into offshore. So I think that’s a cool offering because there’s going to be a, not a lot of work offshore in the United States coming up in which is going to need help.

So I want to hear about what you guys are seeing out in the world and how LiftWerx fills that void.

Glen Aitken: If I look back 10 years. Because I’ve been working in wind energy for around 20 years we’ve seen a massive rapid growth in the size and weight of wind turbine components we’ve also seen just a huge volume of wind turbines installed over the last decade and quite frankly, crane requirements have also, You’re you know, increase just to meet the demand.

Both, both the, demands in height and weight, but also just the volume demand. Um, myself I came out of the heavy crane industry. I worked there since the early 90s. And, Really started to see customers were in a lot of pain over, over crane costs and also crane logistics.

And so we, we tried to come up with a solution that would solve a lot of that pain. And what we’re seeing now is that there’s a huge transition going on especially in North America at the moment where we’re seeing that probably 50 percent now of major component replacements are being done with uptower cranes as compared to traditional cranes.

Joel Saxum: It makes absolute sense, right? So you guys have developed this technology based on seeing the struggles of asset owners and other, ISPs and stuff in the world, because, hey, we’ve got to swap this one component out. We’ve got a crane, over here, it may cost you 50 or 75.

I’ve seen insurance cases where it’s a hundred thousand dollars to mobilize a crane, right? And that’s just to get it there. And once you get it there, then it’s day rate after day rate. And then if you get a little bit of wind and it’s stand down. And so those are things are painful, but it also affects, the business interruption and getting those assets back up in order, getting that energy onto the grid.

So it affects all of us. It’s not just a, a little bit of a money problem for one person. You guys have developed your own solutions in house. If you need to make adjustments, someone has a specific problem, there’s a new model out or something of that sort. You’re engineering it yourselves.

But the way you guys got to being a company like this is you Seeing the pain points of the wind industry and adjusting to it.

Glen Aitken: Yeah, that, that’s correct. For me personally, I before starting Lift works I I met a customer that was in a tremendous amount of pain having just exchanged a gearbox on a GE turbine.

Something that’s being done every day. But it walked me through the woes of this particular gearbox exchange where. It wasn’t just, winter time. He was on a wind farm where they had like close to 20 feet of snow accumulation over the course of the winter. So it’s not just the getting the crane mobilized.

It was also blowing about a quarter million dollars worth of snow. Just to get the crane in there. And it goes on and on. And at the time I was the R& D director at Mammoet, which is a, Dutch global heavy lift contractor. And he said to me, he says, Glenn, he says, can’t you figure out a way to exchange a gearbox without a big crane?

And that, that question really had a huge effect on me. Yeah. Why not? This customer clearly wanted that and needed that. And. Just thought about the scalability of that. If it can solve his problem, it could solve the problems of a lot of other people as well.

Joel Saxum: Your technology, you guys are using it onshore, offshore, and Eelko will touch on the offshore side of things as well.

But, you’re designed to solve problems. One of the ones that always comes to my mind, and this is the exact thing you talked about. I’m from the northern part of the United States, up in Wisconsin. I deal with road bans and freeze and all these different things, right? And or, you get into the western states, like in the BLM territory, where you have certain bird species that you can’t, or raptor seasons, you can’t go on, you can’t leave the pad.

I don’t need to leave the pad with the LiftWerx crane. I can roll up with just a couple pickups, or pickups, bigger trucks. But I don’t have a, to put crane mats out and all these different things. So you guys are solving a lot of problems here. In the onshore world, this is a curiosity for people listening as well.

When you show up with a crane, a big crane, you show up with sometimes 10, 12 truckloads of stuff and moving materials and mats and you have to sometimes mobilize other equipment just to build the equipment. When you guys show up onshore, what does that look like? Hey, LiftWerx is here. They’re rolling into site.

What kind of equipment do you show up with? How many trucks does it take?

Glen Aitken: It also varies. Small repairs require less equipment, larger repairs require more equipment. I think our smallest footprint is if we’re just doing something as simple as a generator exchange for generator changes, it’s one truck.

And it’s a truck 40 foot container on the back. And in that container, we’ve got all the tools all the interface equipment and all the crane equipment to exchange a generator. You don’t need any permits because it’s, nothing’s oversized, nothing’s overweight. So we can just mobilize and go.

And for customers, they can just call us up and if they want that service, it’s like ordering pizza. It really is that simple. We just have to get in. In a driver and hop in the truck and drive to that site. And what’s interesting, when it’s that minimalistic, we can drive from Massachusetts to California in four days and we can still do the job more cost effectively and more timely than local contractors can do in California.

Just because we’re coming with so little equipment and we’re so nimble for bigger repairs. If you’re doing something like pitch bearings where the rotor has to come down, we still need a small tailing crane. Cause you have to, you have to trip the rotor.

So you are coming with a small crane but that small crane is usually just a couple of trucks. We’re coming with a lot of other ground tooling, like hub stands, et cetera. So I think. At the very most, like all the crane equipment up tower and down tower, it might be about 10 trucks. But by comparison, if you’re doing it traditionally, you would be there with maybe 25 trucks.

Or more like what we’re seeing on really big turbines now, it could be 50 trucks. If you see some of these big roller cranes coming with all kinds of superlift, canoe weight and everything else, like it’s for big turbines that the repairs require big cranes.

Eelko May: And I think That’s a key pillar of our business that we show up with maybe a fifth or even a 10th of the equipment that you would need with traditional cranes.

And that’s true for both onshore and offshore where, you need to mobilize huge vessels, huge jackups, huge cranes to change a really small part. And yeah, but in, That’s just not right. If you can minimize that, then there’s always a good business case behind it.

Joel Saxum: Okay, Eelko, so let’s talk about that offshore game a little bit now.

We’re sitting in North America. Glenn, you’re in North America as well. So our offshore industry is very early game, right? I know I’ve just seen some videos from South Fork, and you look at it, and you’re like, Oh, fantastic, we’ve got some utility scale wind farms out there. But it’s just one right now, right?

They’re coming. Now, you guys over in the North Atlantic, Northern Europe, you’ve been doing offshore wind for a long time, so you guys have got quite a bit of experience over there. There’s a big, there’s a big problem with vessel availability. Across the globe for the wind industry, we know this, anything heavy lift is if you’re booked out.

So if you have a generator go down or you need pitch bearings, main bearings, something like that on an offshore turbine, you’re struggling right now. So the LiftWerx solution, you guys can work offshore. How do you mobilize offshore? What kind of vessel do you need?

Eelko May: Yeah. So we, there, we have a bit of a threefold strategy increasing in complexity.

On the more near shore. Wind farms that are fairly shallow water. We can use very small jacob’s, which are. Used in the civil industry to build jetties and key walls and these kinds of things. So they are operating in a different market and there are, upwards of 50 operating all over Europe. So it’s a different availability, different price level.

And they’re very simple, very basic units and no. And then basically we make a little table next to the turbine and we operate as if it’s onshore, right? So we make it a little stable area and we just do the same as onshore. So that’s the that’s the first step. Second step is that we’re developing solutions working from floating vessels.

So instead of using a jacket we do not touch the seabed anymore. No risk of cable damage, no interaction with the seabed whatsoever. So that will be a vessel coming alongside the bottom fixed turbine and working from there. That’s the development we’re doing at the moment. And then as a third there’s floating to floating.

So there are a number of floating wind farms out there in Europe here. They they can have issues. And our entire crane technology is also very suitable to solve. These issues in situ, so changing out major components, keeping the turbine where it’s at, where it’s more than where the electrical cables are connected and they don’t have to be towed back to shore.

So that’s those three things is those three things we’re working on and water fixed solutions. We’ll do the first projects this year.

Allen Hall: So you can avoid the high wind situation where they had a. Tug those yeah, tug all the floating turbines back to shore, which was super expensive and it just seemed like a major problem.

And so that you’re offering really innovative solutions. And I think if you’re watching from the outside like me and LiftWerx, you think all this stuff is modular and just bolt right on. But there’s a lot of engineering that goes on behind the scenes. So if you’re doing a GE 1. 5 versus a Sierra or a Cypress.

turbine. Each one of those requires some engineering, and this isn’t like the OEMs are designing their turbines to adapt your equipment. You’re actually doing all the engineering to adapt a crane onto their platform. You want to walk through that, Eiko, of what’s going on there?

Eelko May: Yeah, sure. So we on new types of turbines that we want to service, we We need to develop a system to open the roof, slide it back, gain access to the turbine.

Normally with a mobile crane or an offshore crane, you can just lift the roof off. That’s not the case in our situation. So we have to develop a roof sliding system and then our cranes are generic. So they can fit on any turbine, but they need to have, they need an interface to basically mount the crane onto the strong points in the nacelle.

And we also develop those systems in house. By use of, for instance 3D scans of the nacelles, we could go in and we could take critical measurements and we can develop a crane interface. And that typically goes up in small pieces, and we then build a small crane, and the small crane builds a slightly bigger one.

And that we like a Russian doll system, we can increase to any scale we want. And depending on what, whatever is in there in the first place, like a chain hoist or a small internal service crane, we can start with 250 or up to three tons of lifting capacity to start with, and then go to the ultimate lifting capacity that we would need, which can be 80 tons.

We’re operating now in North America for Rotoruk, the latest generation.

Joel Saxum: That was one of my big questions, to be honest with you. This thing is I don’t know how you get the actual crane up there, but it makes absolute sense now. Like we go up there with a small one, then we get a little bit bigger, a little bit bigger, a little bit bigger to what we need.

Cause when I’m like right next to your head, Eelko, and in the screen here for our people that are actually listening is a picture of the crane and I’m looking at that and going, that’s not coming up the inside of the tower, there’s no way, but then you can see a couple of different arms. It looks like there’s like a one, two, three, this one was smaller.

Probably got built first, then number two, and then number three. And you guys stepped it up as you went up. That’s pretty cool.

Eelko May: Yeah. One of the, one of our clients recently called it the porcupine setup. Hey, if it works, that was a new definition to be, but now it seems like a lot, but it’s very efficient because the steps get bigger and bigger as the capacity grows.

So for instance the road through Ukraine that we. put up, it goes up in a single lift. So you go from 30 ton lifting capacity in one lift, you go to 80. So that’s really quick and efficient.

Joel Saxum: Let’s talk about this then Glenn. I know you’re located here in North America. You’re up in Ontario just West of Toronto.

Eelko, you’re in the Hague. So you’re taking on all the offshore stuff in Europe and some onshore stuff in Europe. Where are you guys operating at right now? Where do you have kit? If someone needs a deploy, you can cover North America and Europe onshore and offshore? Or where else are you guys at?

Yeah,

Glen Aitken: that’s correct. And those are the two markets we’re working in at the moment. We do get a lot of inquiries from other parts of the world, but you can’t be everything to everybody. And maybe in time, we will expand to other continents and beyond. And certainly in our background, We all came from global companies.

We’re certainly not afraid of that, but you have to work in small steps when you’re growing a business. So yeah, today we have we have a presence in Europe and in Europe, we’ve only been operating for about two or three years, so it’s still quite new. In North America, we’ve been operating for eight years.

I think we’re in our ninth year now. So we have a much larger presence here. But yeah, because of the mobility and nimble nature of our equipment, we cover the whole continent. We have many teams working across North America at the moment, and we work everywhere from Central Alaska down to the southern tip of Texas and east to Nova Scotia.

You name it, we work everywhere. How many teams do you have right now? Presently

Allen Hall: in North America, we have six. And because it’s so efficient, they can really get in and out on MCEs, right? Now that’s the whole game is to be quick and efficient.

Glen Aitken: Yeah, that’s right. Just as an example, like one of our gearbox teams right now they were in California, they did a few jobs there back in January.

Then they’re up to Montana. Now they’re down in Texas. They’re heading further East. Actually, they’re heading to Yardnick of the Woodtown. They’re heading to Massachusetts shortly. Ah, I think I know where that is. Yeah. It’s a very different model than what people are used to using if they’re using traditional cranes because traditional cranes are so large that it doesn’t really make economic sense to be mobilizing them across the country.

So you normally, they have a hub and spoke model where they’re mobilizing it from a central depot and they’re demobilizing back to that depot. We don’t do that. We only mobilize one way and that’s to get there. And then, getting out of there that’s on the next job. So not only is it a way less mobilization cost to begin with, it’s only a one way mobilization because we don’t have this hub and smoke model.

Joel Saxum: Yeah, let me touch on something there that you mentioned because this is a value add for clients. I, in my past life, have been in a part of a lot of insurance cases, right? And I did, I’ve done them in North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota in the wintertime. And this is what happens in reality sometimes.

Okay. You have an issue where you need a crane, right? You may need a gearbox. You may need a blade swap. You need something like that. But it is now say October. And in October, you’re like, you’re just getting some snow. Then you get some weather. Nobody really wants to mobilize a big crane from the Southern part of the States in that time, because they may, it may sit on site for a month without being able to be used because of the weather.

So there’s scared of it. So they’re like, you know what? We’ll put it off. And then all of a sudden you end up with what you said earlier, a quarter million dollars or the snow where the snow moving, and then it freezes up and they can’t get the crane in there anyways.

And then we get to spring. So that turbine sits down from October, right? Not spinning a lick. And then you get to the point where you’re like, okay, it’s getting to spring. We’re tired of dealing with all these costs. Let’s get a crane out here. And then all of a sudden you run into road bands. The frost starts coming out of the ground.

You got another six week delay once you feel like the weather’s actually nice, but then you got six weeks of delay until the frost comes on the ground. So you can move anything heavy in there. So you end up having that turbine sit down from October to man, sometimes April, May. And then the issue is not so much the damage that’s done to the turbine.

It’s the business interruption costs because that thing down costs can cost if it was running 1500, depending on the megawatts, right? 000 a day in energy production. You can be crazy heights of costs for if it’s an insurance case or if it’s the asset owner, someone has to eat that money. But you guys, if someone said, Hey, it’s October, We’ll be there.

We’re in the United States. We’re there within four days.

Glen Aitken: Yeah. And what we see in our business, like there is no seasonality in our business. Our customers they see LiftWerx as a solution to. To plow through those those off seasons and, to take care of the remote sites and the tough mobilization sites.

And so we, we do all the toughest jobs. But we’re also seeing the trend that you just mentioned about, leaving things down for the winter and holding off until the spring. I think that, that trend is on the decrease. I think there there’s so much demand right now that it doesn’t make as much sense to do that because you may.

You may find that if you wait till the spring, not only have You know, taking a hit on production, but there aren’t enough cranes to go around. If everybody were to save up their work and do only summer work. So we’re seeing now, especially with the big owners, they are very active in the winter.

They are highly prioritizing uptower cranes in the winter, big for obvious reasons, higher wind speeds and more mobility, et cetera. Not dealing with snow and mud as much as you would with a traditional crane. Yeah we’re busy 12 months a year. We do not hire seasonally. We are. We are a full time employer

Joel Saxum: 12 months of the year.

So if you’re an MCE or someone that has worked in with cranes in the past, and you’re looking for a new job, LiftWerx, call them. This is something, it’s a hot topic because the last few weeks we’ve been talking about at OMS, at Blades, everybody’s talking to people. What can be done?

If you’re a company like LiftWerx, you’re not hiring seasonal. You have no shoulder season. We have never laid anybody off due to seasonality. That’s amazing.

Eelko May: You’re working with the latest and most innovative technology in the business to do these exchanges. It’s very safe and you’re learning new stuff and we’re continuously developing new services.

So everybody that’s part of our company is also part of these innovations.

Allen Hall: So Glenn, how do people find LiftWerx? How do they contact you or Eelko to get a connection and to get some work done this year?

Glen Aitken: In this day and age, most of the inquiries come in, uh, either on social media, on our LinkedIn page or people look us up, you can find our phone number, if you prefer to phone us, just look at our number listed on our website or people will often just reach out to us personally, just personal messages on LinkedIn, I’m present on LinkedIn so is Eelko.

So if if you want to reach out, if you have questions, you can, it’s very

Allen Hall: easy to find us. And we’ll put all the contact information in the show notes. So when you hear this, just look in the show notes so you can reach Glenn and Eelko directly. Guys, this has been fantastic. I’ve learned a tremendous amount here.

LiftWerx is really changing the game across the world in terms of MCE and making turbines more efficient and operating for longer periods of time. So congratulations to both of you and thank you for being on the program.

Glen Aitken: Yeah. Thanks very much for having us guys. Thanks a lot.

https://weatherguardwind.com/craneless-turbine-repair-solutions-liftwerx/

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