How Augmented Reality is Solving Critical Workforce Challenges in Utilities
Another Day at the Office?
Imagine that your office is located 250 feet in the air, perched atop a swaying tower. Your commute includes a vertical ladder climb, 300 rungs long. You’re wearing a harness, protective gear, and carrying tools ranging from wrenches to sophisticated optical measurement devices. Arriving in your place of work, you’re confronted with whirling machinery, loaded with thousands of pounds of mechanical torsion, and generating 2.5 MW of electricity.
This is the world of the wind turbine service technician – professionals that keep wind farms turning and renewable energy flowing. Wind turbine techs are part mechanical engineer and part electrical troubleshooter. Part vibration sensor and part pack mule. Part rock climber and part archer (seriously, a bow and arrow sometimes come into play).
The skills and knowledge required to be a true “turbine whisperer” are a rare combination. Given the growth of the wind farm industry, there is an increasing need for field techs, yet also a shortage of expertise. Plus, given the often-remote wind farm, the first off-shore wind farm in the US opened last year, getting experts to the turbines presents its own set of challenges.
Enter virtual presence with Onsight Connect and the Onsight Collaboration Hub. Librestream’s software/hardware combination puts experts on the turbine, virtually, from anywhere in the world. It’s designed specifically for the harsh physical environments and the difficult network connectivity of remote wind farms. Using a combination of live video, audio, data, and knowledge base, Onsight digitizes the turbine tech’s world, allowing them to work better, faster, and safer.
A wind farm is an impressive sight, with turbines stretching to the horizon, each blade turning seemingly lazy arcs through the air. But there’s nothing lazy about it. The slow rotation is amplified by the 100+ foot blades, whose tips are moving at over 150 mph. All that speed and power finds its way into the gearbox, which transfers it to the electrical turbine to generate electricity. Lots of force. Lots of potential for wear. In fact, gearbox failures are a common cause of wind turbine downtime. Specifically, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the bearings make up 76% of all gearbox failures. So, regular gearbox inspection is crucial for power-generating uptime.
Gearbox inspection requires close examination of critical internal components like the bearings. Techs use a borescope to snake a video camera and illumination into the tight spaces within the turbine. Historically, these gearbox inspections were done up close and personal, seen solely by the tech in the turbine nacelle. Which meant that a gearbox expert had to climb 250 feet up. Every turbine. Every time.
The Onsight Collaboration Hub changes all this. Any technician can go up the turbine and the Hub connects the previously unconnected borescopes, ultrasonic sensors, and infrared cameras to the Onsight Connect platform, allowing the gearbox expert anywhere in the world to see the internal workings of the turbine in real-time. From the convenience of their desk, their tablet, or their phone, an expert can diagnose conditions in and around the turbine. He or she can guide the turbine tech to specific areas to inspect, remotely capture images and video from the field, and push relevant work instructions, diagrams, images, and videos to the on-turbine tech.
The result is faster inspection, diagnosis, and resolution of technical issues on the turbine, and greater turbine uptime and power production. And because of its ability to support millions of users, the Onsight Collaboration Platform allows a single expert to support multiple turbine techs simultaneously, anywhere in the world. And THAT, is a truly renewable resource.
This blog post was written by Charlie Neagoy- VP Business Development at Librestream Technologies Inc.