One of the big issues affecting the wind industry is that needs to future-proof itself, but the investment pipeline still lacks clarity, leaving contractors in a difficult situation and trying to minimise their costs explained Gilbert Rezette, MD of Netherlands based Ulstein Equipment BV.

It’s a situation that has been further compounded by DONG Energy’s surprise winning price of €72.70 per MWh for the 700MW Borssele wind farms and further dramatic falls in the strike price “and that’s putting pressure on everyone” he added.

Alongside this, the sizes of the turbines are growing.

This pincer movement on wind installations has changed the market dynamics. “Operators no longer want to treat handling equipment like one-off prototype solutions,” he said, “but are demanding more cost effective, off-the-shelf products with short lead time – and the flexibility to scale them up with little fuss,” he says. Therefore a ‘back-to-basics’ design approach aims to develop product lines to meet the new market challenges.

To start with, Ulstein Equipment focused on a lifting tool that can lift and install a whole range of flanged objects, including transition pieces, tower sections and jackets between 200 tonnes and 600 tonnes - though these specifications could broaden with demand.

“We’ve made it much simpler and totally mechanical” said Mr Rezette. “The gripping mechanism works more like a ball-point pen, activated by its own weight. It’s a nice, robust system, no hydraulics, no complexity, with a simple signalling mechanism to confirm engagement.”

He added that the absence of a hydraulic system significantly reduces the total cost of the equipment, with a lower purchasing cost and maintenance expenditure. At the same time it also eliminates the risk of hydraulic oil spills on site, something which has been a growing concern for the industry.

It’s been cleverly designed to be flexible: the detachable centre piece allows the equipment to be used on various sized objects: “You can modify the diameter quite simply, add extension pieces to the three arms allowing it to reach between 3.5m and 8.0m across,” he told MJ. On the other hand, “it can even be made into a four or six legged version depending on what you need to do”. Helpfully, it can also accommodate different rigging angles.

The design is fully standardised but it’s been pre-prepared to accommodate other options, even later on in the tool’s life. Some clients, he explains, like CCTVs to focus on the operation at a distance and while the release can be operated by a lever, if required Ulstein can fit a remote trigger so that there’s no need for personnel to step onto the tower itself... a real boon when it comes to safety.

The move to winnow out complexity won’t stop here promises Mr Rezette. Next candidate for the treatment is Ulstein’s monopile upending and lifting tool: “It will have a similar self locking mechanism and simple design approach to let it handle various weights and diameters,” he explained.

In a world where contract prices are under steady downward pressure, this kind of innovation seems like the best, most sensible answer.

By Stevie Knight