Early warning system adapted to assess gearbox damage

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Technology used extensively in the conventional energy and aerospace industries has been adapted by a Canadian company to provide wind turbine operators with early warning signs of gearbox damage. GasTOPS, based in Ottawa, which specialises in the development of machinery maintenance, monitoring and control systems, has created a version of its MetalSCAN particle sensor for use in wind turbines. The system uses magnetic coils to measure the passage of metallic debris in the oil line. Such debris results from damage to the internal bearings and gears teeth and if detected early enough provides a valuable early warning system of trouble in the making.

"This is a simple system," says product manager Kevin Goddard. "The MetalSCAN Series 3000 is installed in-line in the lubrication system after the pump and before the filter and counts the damage particles greater than 200 microns in size -- those particles that are generated by gear or bearing damage."

No particles of this size are normally generated in a gearbox that is healthy. When they do appear it is clear that there is damage within and the quantity corresponds directly to the degree of damage. That correlation allows for the establishment of simple operating limits that trigger servicing of the gearbox before a failure -- and a costly unplanned shutdown -- occurs. A gearbox failure will generate hundreds of thousands of particles over a period of many months.

The production version of MetalSCAN 3000 will not be available until September, but the system has been demonstrated at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and in a number of older and newer wind turbine models. It has been installed on all seven General Electric 3.6 MW offshore turbines recently commissioned at the 25 MW Arklow Bank Wind Farm in the Irish Sea, and this month another five systems will be installed on GE 1.5 MW machines in the US.

The MetalSCAN technology is already used in a wide range of applications, including military and commercial aircraft engines, gas turbines and pipeline gas compression units.

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