Last Word: Safe Wind Turbine Operation Starts With Lubrication

For wind turbine operators, focusing on lubrication can have a big impact on enhancing safety.

How, you ask?

The greatest safety risks for wind operators occur during equipment servicing and maintenance. To conduct even the most basic equipment servicing, maintenance personnel must climb towers rising up to 400 feet high, sometimes working on top of the nacelle.

With these challenges, any opportunity to reduce human-machine interaction (HMI), or the frequency which maintenance personnel interact with wind turbine equipment, can help enhance safety by reducing overall risk.

That’s why lubrication matters. Proper lubrication of critical wind turbine equipment, including gearboxes, helps prevent unnecessary downtime and extends the service intervals of that equipment, thus reducing HMI and safety risk.

Wind turbine components — particularly gears — operate under severe conditions, including heavy loads, and vibration and varying speeds. To ensure the best possible equipment protection, operators should always use high performance, synthetic lubricants specifically formulated for these conditions.

These lubricants offer improved performance across a range of important characteristics. For example, synthetic lubricants possess better viscosity indexes than mineral-based oils, meaning their viscosity remains more stable and continues to provide sufficient protection against metal-to-metal contact when exposed to extreme ranges of hot and cold temperatures. Synthetic oils also include additives that can reduce deposit formation caused by oxidation, helping prevent component wear and corrosion and extending oil and component life.

As a result of these enhanced performance benefits, synthetic lubricants can help minimize HMI and spare your maintenance teams from avoidable trips up tower. In fact, using synthetic wind turbine gearbox lubricants can extend service intervals from 24 months to a period of 5 to 7 years when converting from mineral-based oils.

However, even the quality of synthetic oil varies greatly, so it’s important to take a close look at a lubricant’s formulation — especially some of the characteristics highlighted above — to understand if that formulation is ideal for your needs. Look for synthetic lubricants engineered with a balanced formulation — a mix of high quality base oils with a robust additive package — that keeps equipment running in extreme conditions that are common for wind turbine applications. 

To help further minimize HMIs, you should look to optimize how often you service the equipment. And, to design the optimal service program, you need understand how your equipment is performing.

Look no further than used oil analysis, a fundamental lubrication service that helps you understand real-time lubricant and equipment performance as well as identify potential pain points. Most importantly, these services can help your team identify high-level trends, allowing you to tailor your maintenance program to prevent unplanned downtime.

When conducting these assessments, your lubricant supplier can be a helpful partner. For example, they can help you analyze equipment operating conditions, specifications, and OEM recommendations to best identify the right product mix for your equipment, namely with greases and oils you should use.

You can also work with a supplier’s team of field engineers to identify and execute technical services — such as used oil analysis or gear oil flushing services. And, suppliers can also provide training to help ensure your staff is knowledgeable and informed on the latest lubrication best practices.

These are just a few examples of how your lubricant supplier can be an invaluable partner in helping optimize equipment reliability and performance.

In sum, lubrication plays a critical role in enhancing the safety of wind turbine operations, as it can help keep your equipment running as expected and reduce the need for unplanned HMI.

So, we hope you consider these lubrication tips next time you assess your own equipment maintenance program. 

Brad Prickett, Senior Lubrication Engineer, ExxonMobil

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