When it acquired independent service providers – UpWind Solutions, in the US in 2015 and Availon, in Germany in 2016, Vestas was pioneering a new business area; servicing other manufacturer’s turbines. With a portfolio that today consists of 9GW in over 20 countries, Vestas is continuing to push the frontiers of its multibrand service business, both in terms of its global footprint and the range of platforms within its portfolio.
Here, we ask Head of Multibrand Service at Vestas, David Brett (pictured below), how the company's mulitbrand offering has developed, how they have overcome some of the challenges of third-party servicing support, and more...
With over 9GW of non-Vestas turbines serviced by Vestas globally, how has the global market grown and developed?
Our US and European acquisitions enabled us to establish our mulitbrand service business in two major markets and immediately begin utilising the multi-OEM experience of these unique companies across Vestas global footprint. Today, we have industrialised our multibrand capabilities to the extent we can use our local Service teams across the world to deliver customers everything from repair services to full scope service contracts across the major OEMs in every one of the 83 markets Vestas operate in.
Our multibrand service business alone has active service contracts in 23 of these markets and we are constantly extending our geographic footprint to new markets such as Latin America, including in Brazil and Argentina, and in Asia Pacific. Australia has been a key multibrand market for us for the past number of years, but we are also expanding this business in Asia across countries like Japan, India and the Philippines.
We’ve recently extended our multibrand service business into the Chinese market too: for the past year we have been building spare parts inventory and we have started offering repair services as well as service contracts. It is early days but China has the potential to evolve into a significant multibrand service market.
Typically, at what stage of a wind farm’s operational lifetime is Vestas taking over servicing third-party machines?
You’ll see turbines coming out of their warranties and service contracts, often after their fifth or tenth year of operation. However, with the Senvion insolvency we encountered a new demand from wind farm owners where we’ve supported them by taking over turbines directly from commissioning. In some markets, we’re also working with wind farm developers who have ordered turbines without a service contract with the supplier and so in these instances we are also servicing the turbines from commissioning/start-up of the wind farm. As we’ve grown our capabilities over the years we have developed a flexible multibrand offering that goes beyond those 'typical' service agreement scenarios when the warranty or initial service contract comes to an end.
What are some of the key questions/concerns that wind farm owners/operators have when weighing up having Vestas take on servicing portfolios of different turbine makes/models etc?
These tend to be initially around what are Vestas’ technical capabilities or needing to know whether Vestas can address their specific service model. Instead of having meetings with endless power point presentations, we go in with an open book. We take clients through our capabilities to address their questions, such as reviewing our technical work instructions or demonstrating how our SCADA system works across different platforms, for example.
We bring our technical capabilities to the forefront of discussions with customers. Once the initial technical concerns are addressed, the next point is almost always supply chain related with customers wanting to know how Vestas can get the parts for their turbines that span different OEMs. From our experience the biggest risk is not availability of the part but more so knowing what part is needed and ensuring it flows through our supply chain quickly.
Many components, such as pitch systems and converters, are used across the same OEMs, hence we have mapped an extensive parts database for different turbines and their different components to ensure the correct parts can be quickly identified and they are available to order through our supply network. We also see a trend evolving amongst parts suppliers in the industry becoming increasingly multibrand focused and offering components compatible across different OEMs. We’ve formed strong partnerships with such suppliers to ensure obsolesce risk amongst discontinued components is reduced.
Another way we are addressing obselence is via our dedicated repair and refurbishment facility where we break down full-turbines, into their key components and recondition the parts before putting them back on the shelf ready for the next turbines that need them. This initiative is particularly important for us to not only reduce obsolesce risk but to ensure environmental sustainability is an integral part of our multibrand supply chain strategy by reusing as much components as possible.
Vestas says it has worked with customer-specific requests to handle technology which at the time was outside of its portfolio but worked together to find an optimal solution – can you provide some insight into one of these examples?
We’ve brought platforms into our multibrand service portfolio at an average rate of three new technologies per year since 2016, which means we can address a large number of turbine platforms in the market today. With experience we’ve also become faster at evaluating how to introduce new turbine technologies to our portfolio.
At the time of Senvion’s insolvency for example, we understood the manufacturer’s 2MW platform and we were already servicing our first MM92 site. Then we were inundated with inquiries about the 3MW platform. Our modular approach allows us to evaluate turbines based on breaking them down into manageable components, the pitch system, the control system, the converter, for example.
When it is a new platform that process now only takes us about four weeks, from initial customer enquiry to completing a technical due diligence before entering discussions with the customer about a service plan that works for them. We have another example of this in Brazil, where we worked with a client to take on technology that was new to us, we have since taken over 410MW of the Alstom ECO122 platform, which is not extensively deployed anywhere else in the world, but we have signed a 16-year full-scope service agreement with the customer.
Do key differences in turbine technology such as gearbox- versus direct-drive turbines create challenges or issues for a multibrand service provider?
Technical variations will no doubt cause challenges for multibrand service providers if you don’t have the right people, systems and processes to handle the complexity, but fundamentally wind turbines are large-scale rotating equipment which work to the same general design principals.
When it comes to distinct mechanical differences between turbines, like that of the direct-driven versus gearbox-driven drive trains, we view this as just another design iteration that will have common as well as special characteristics. Therefore, understanding the turbine and how its design influences its operation enables our engineers to design the preventative maintenance procedures as well as repair solutions for the given drivetrain.
Finally, why should wind farm owners/operators pick Vestas?
Our distinct advantage is that we have established a truly global multibrand business that has a large portfolio of technologies combined with competitive commercial offering and warranties. The Senvion insolvency heightened the market’s awareness that servicing is not only about the here and now, the long-term viability of wind farms can be greatly affected by the stability of their service provider. We’re working more and more with clients who take the long-term view on their projects and we are signing as well as offering 20-year, full scope multibrand contracts worldwide.
Track record, competitiveness and flexibility are some of the key factors customers assess when choosing a service provider. We believe we can offer customers the business case certainty they need to operate their wind farms and we look forward to addressing fresh challenges in new countries, across new technologies for the years to come.
• Vestas is the energy industry’s global partner on sustainable energy solutions. We design, manufacture, install, and service wind turbines across the globe, and with +136 GW of wind turbines in 84 countries, we have installed more wind power than anyone else. Through our industry-leading smart data capabilities and +117 GW of wind turbines under service, we use data to interpret, forecast, and exploit wind resources and deliver best-in-class wind power solutions. Together with our customers, Vestas’ more than 29,000 employees are bringing the world sustainable energy solutions to power a bright future. For more information go to vestas.com.