Offshore wind design

Servitisation – an example of anticipating future needs

There are interesting parallels between the servitisation concept now being used increasingly to add long-term value in industry and our flexible engineering design approach that optimises the full-lifespan of a new wind farms.

( Text content written by Twenty6 for Luke Fussell, LIC Energy )

Nothing remains the same for long

To meet the accelerating pace of change, ‘static products’ are increasingly being turned into ‘dynamic services’. The modern requirement is not only to solve immediate problems, but also build in the ability to firstly anticipate, and secondly respond positively, to challenges and circumstances that could remain hidden for year or decades to come.

We can also embed similar advantages into the EPCI (Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Installation) contract bidding stage at a time when most eyes are glued on short-term convenience.

In other words, instead of simply focussing on making the manufacture, transportation and installation of offshore renewable assets swift, easy and convenient today, we can also give future owners and operators a wide range of important technical and business choices.

I will expand on this in a moment. Before that, I would like to outline the advantages of servitisation in more detail and then explain the long-term gains that we can now bring to major wind farm projects, not only via EPCI, but also through life extension (LE).


The day after tomorrow

Servitisation is a relatively recent idea taken up by manufacturers who recognise the benefits of delivering a service component alongside their traditional product. This gives customers a continuous stream of extra value while boosting supplier profitability. The principle is not particularly new and has been used by OEMs like Rolls Royce with its jet engines for several decades.

So, what makes servitisation more relevant today? A major part of the answer is digitisation and data sharing. Advances in technology mean that components are increasingly able to ‘talk’ to each other, revealing stress patterns and allowing the working life of units and sub-units to be extended based upon an accurate understanding of real wear and fatigue. Designers can use this profitably.

As a very simple example, runners no longer buy running shoes for comfort alone; they buy attributes such as gait analysis to make sure that new footwear matches their own personal running style. However, what’s good for shoes also applies widely to industry.


Engineering design and service

I’ve already mentioned a more complex and well-documented example. As an OEM, Rolls Royce makes top-flight jet engines. It continues to sell straightforward engines, but for nearly half a century has also sold Power-by-the-Hour in which airlines pay for flying hour.

Rolls Royce provides a service that anticipates key decisions about maintenance, upgrades, introducing new technologies, new models and any complete engine replacements it feels are needed to comply with new regulations and continuously extend operational life. This gives designers the space they need to think ahead and plan for the long-term, matching the strategic interests of both suppliers and users.

Everyone gains.


Wind farm applications

There are parallels in the modern offshore wind industry. Design engineers are pioneering new ways of minimising future O&M, extending asset life, refitting with tomorrow’s technology, or simply deciding when to close down a farm depending on future prevailing conditions.

The trick I think is to think of an offshore wind farm developer as the OEM. Our joint aim at LIC is to help in providing flexible solutions that can maximise profitable power output over, say, the next 30-years. In a way this happens already. When a client releases their functional specification to us, we automatically respond with our design suggestions, intended to take the design further than the minimum, to show the client some extra value.

However, at LIC we go a stage further. We can use our expert skills and experience to designate a dedicated service engineer whose responsibility it is to think ahead across the entire lifecycle of an asset and, in effect, send back a ‘postcard from the future’ explaining how fortunate it is that a particular situation occurring in 2040 was foreseen in 2018!

In the case where EPCI proposal bids are considered, by working closely with large wind farm developers at critical stages on the client-side, we can move the emphasis from here-and-now manufacturing convenience, transit and trouble-free installation, towards, say, advanced corrosion protection systems or stress analysis techniques that will be vital for flexible trouble-free operation five, ten, 15 or 20 years in the future.


Winds of change

It may be helpful to look in more detail at the design for life extension (LE) concept that is moving rapidly into the offshore wind industry lexicon.

As already mentioned, design to date has largely concentrated on making it easy to make, move and manoeuvre huge offshore wind turbine components into increasingly large and remote offshore wind farms. This requires us, as an industry, to consider at an early stage factors such as corrosion and structural stresses that can cause problems later in life.

LE doesn’t automatically mean extending the life of renewable energy assets. But it does open up opportunities to streamline design aspects known to cause future problems. Importantly, LE introduces a more strategic approach to whole lifecycle costs and maintainability.

It also considers retrofitting needs and capitalises on evolving monitoring and operational data analysis technologies that make it possible to identify discrepancies between the theoretical life of structures and the real fatigue damage they are accumulating in service.

This is turning what were previously seen as the twilight-years of aging offshore wind farms structures into extremely cost-effective, productive periods of extended operation. The watchword is versatility.


End game

The point I am keen to get across is that it is also possible to embed future potential benefits very cost-effectively today. With the right farsighted collaborative design partner, what can’t be predicted accurately can be accommodated with flexibility.

Tomorrow does eventually arrive. It’s a false economy to leave problems waiting for the next generation of engineers when we can forestall them today.