Moventas ramps up Oregon gearbox assembly facility

UNITED STATES: The Finnish gearbox manufacturer is expanding its capacity to test and repair gearboxes as it looks toward US manufacture.

Finnish gearbox maker Moventas is expanding its North American presence in Portland, Oregon, aiming to fill a hole in the US wind power supply chain, the company announced in September.

The company will double the size of its operations to 21,000 square metres and begin assembling new gearboxes early next year, eventually reaching 100-150 units annually for manufacturers of turbines up to 2MW. It will continue to test, repair and service gearboxes for utility-scale clients.

"There definitely is a trend that we are seeing towards the original equipment manufacturers trying to boost their domestic content," says Tim Stephure, a senior analyst with Massachusetts-based IHS Emerging Energy Research. "Gearboxes are one of the last areas that the industry is looking at as a big opportunity. It is one of the last areas of the US supply chain that we have seen develop."

Paul Baker, Moventas North American product manager for wind gears, explains that the company will not manufacture components and will initially import them through its well-established European industrial supply chain.

"We are going to assemble and test new units and, as we receive orders from turbine manufacturers, we will build gearboxes here instead of bringing them over from Finland," he says.

Moventas plans to develop its North American supplier network and will find castings and forgings locally. But Baker says finding North American gear manufacturers that can meet its quality specifications has been a real challenge.

Gearbox manufacturers are a rarity in the US for several reasons, including inadequate sub-supply chain, uncertain federal incentives and high domestic labour costs that result in relatively inexpensive imports. Illinois-based Winergy is the primary high-profile US gearbox maker, although Indiana-based Brevini and Germany's ZF Group are both ramping up operations. US turbine maker Clipper Windpower assembles its own gearboxes in Iowa.

Moventas counts Nextera Energy, Iberdrola, Invenergy, GE, Vestas and Bluarc among its repair clients. Now the company hopes to attract manufacturers of 500kW-2MW turbines for its new gearboxes while it works on plans to establish a similar Midwestern operation. "We recognize the need to have a footprint in the Midwest," Baker says. "And I believe a small commitment from a turbine manufacturer would make us pull the trigger there."