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United States

Prepare for the long haul

US: Specialised heavy haul carriers are seeking new ways of accommodating the growth in the size of wind equipment. Alan Redding gives a carrier perspective on how to meet the challenge

Even giant Schnabel trailers sometime struggle with giant 3MW components
Even giant Schnabel trailers sometime struggle with giant 3MW components
Transportation has sometimes been among the last considerations of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) when designing wind turbines and related components; as long as machines stayed well under 2MW, logistical problems could almost always be solved.   

But as the 3MW barrier is scaled, the build-a-boat-in-the-basement analogy comes to mind: no matter how well the boat is designed and constructed, if it does not fit up the stairs it will never see the water.

You might build the ultimate turbine but if you cannot move it from A to B, it will never do its job. 

When customers approach me for advice on the impact of logistics on their project, I talk them through the options and provide a perspective on potential choke points or cost impacts.

It is usually possible to identify and address any challenge so it does not become a problem when the project logistics are executed.   

Upfront evaluation and equipment No two jobs are the same so ATS sends people to locations all over North America to look at every possible issue before our trucks hit the road.

All the local and state agencies must be dealt with, along with counties, townships and anyone else involved in permits and police or civilian escorts.   

Equipment is critical to successful transport and ATS has used its experience to design blade, tower and nacelle trailers to accommodate ever larger wind components.

But even with some of the largest trailers in the industry, the new generation of multi-megawatt turbines threatens to exceed the limits of our equipment.  

Tower sections can be the most difficult pieces to move. Schnabel trailers, which have no decks, can support the towers, using hydraulic arms that grab both ends of a tower section and essentially make the tower part of the trailer.

Those arms can lower the section close to the road on an interstate or raise the section as conditions dictate.   

Flexibility and innovation It is important to be adaptable and be able to offer solutions to clients when unusual situations occur. ATS has done projects that have involved transporting components up an 18% gradient.

The ability to change routes and add or pull back trucks to speed up or slow the flow of equipment to the site can also be valuable for clients.   Developing drivers is another major focus.

We put a lot of time into training, and eventually drivers can qualify to join our heavy-haul group. Then, having gained sufficient heavy-haul experience, they become a candidate for hauling wind energy components.

Since the wind sector has taken off, there are more big loads on the road than at any point in history. At our peak, we have well over 200 drivers out hauling wind components.  

ATS has also developed the most up-to-date software possible for routing and maintaining contact with our trucks and drivers.

There is no off-the-shelf software available, so we have developed our own based on years of experience, and it is continually upgraded.

We can monitor hauling progress in real time and actually feed updated information to our drivers on the fly Ñ they can even get faxes and permits inside their trucks.   

Pre-empt expensive mistakes Although the right people, equipment and systems are key to successful transportation, carriers are still limited on what they can transport.

With a lot of the sub-2MW designs, there were few problems in using conventional equipment. Now, though, we are starting to move beyond the capabilities of trailers designed specifically for wind equipment.

Logistics are becoming a lot more complex and pushing the threshold of what is possible.   That is why it is beneficial to get involved at the earliest stages of a project to help clients grasp the ramifications of technical decisions related to logistics.

Short of getting involved with the OEMs on multi-megawatt component blueprints with an eye towards transport, the main aim should be to provide greater understanding and avoid expensive oversights. By the time a boat-in-the-basement scenario develops, it is probably already too late.    

Alan Redding is director of sales and marketing at ATS Wind Energy Services

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