Is your rotor blade technician training provider training your technicians to a high enough standard?
We have seen an increase in external applications for roles with Altitec as rotor blade repair and maintenance technicians where, despite holding a training certificate for blade repair, applicants lack some of the basic skills that our supervisors expect from even the newest members of our team. As a result, Altitec has had to send a number of technicians qualified in blade repair and maintenance ‘back to school’ in recent months.
If this was only about one or two people not having absorbed or mastered some of the skills needed to work on a turbine rotor blade we wouldn’t be blogging about it. However, the deficiencies covered a fundamental lack of knowledge about the job they are preparing to do.
If this trend continues, the implications for the industry in the cost of retraining will be dwarfed by the inevitable losses associated with poor maintenance practices.
While there is a wide range of rotor blade repair and maintenance technician courses in the market teaching the skills necessary to transition into the wind sector, the fundamental question is, how do you select the best training provider for your technicians?
In light of this, we decided to outline five questions which operators and service providers should be asking the training providers.
How much hands-on training is involved?
Transferring skills to new technicians can’t be left to textbook information soaking. Hands-on knowledge transfer from experienced technicians and blade engineers with years of up-tower experience will lead to a greater level of competence among new technicians.
Technicians should have the chance to spend as much time as possible working on blades and putting the theory into practice during their course.
What certifications does your training academy hold?
Wind farm operators need to be confident that their technicians’ qualifications are recognised across the industry.
Previously, the lack of a widely recognised qualification of blade repair standards was a key factor in dissuading job-seekers from entering the wind sector, resulting in a skills gap in the labour market.
Certification from bodies such as DNV-GL demonstrates the quality of the training technicians have received. If your training provider is certified, operators can be confident that they are hiring well-training technicians with the appropriate skillset.
What standard or syllabus do you follow?
In response to the launch of the Global Wind Organisation (GWO)’s blade repair and inspection training standard this year, most training providers will be following the GWO curriculum.
A well-regarded standard curriculum will help establish a clear baseline for the skills required for the job, and ensure trainees are not being let down by their training providers.
The formal training technicians receive at the start of their careers is fundamental to delivering good service and must be backed up by on-going learning and development support from advanced technicians and engineers at the blade servicing companies they work for.
Clear and agreed standards for basic skills in blade repair technicians will help to ensure the quality of servicing across the sector remains high.
However, industry standards should be seen as a baseline. There is room for added expertise, and where training providers can add insight directly from highly-skilled and experienced technicians, trainees will graduate from their course prepared for work up-turbine.
Wind farms often are made up of multiple brands of wind turbines and therefore consist of a variety of manufacturers’ blades. This means that technicians should be prepared to work on a variety of blade models and their training providers should incorporate this into their syllabus.
Who will conduct the course?
A course syllabus delivered by blade technicians and engineers who have experience of working in the field, as well as providing training, is the most effective method of knowledge transfer for such a complex skill set. Even the highest-skilled technicians, those that are delivering the courses, never stop learning.
In contrast, a static syllabus, packaged up and delivered to future rotor blade technicians without reference to on-going developments from the field risks weakening the knowledge transfer. When choosing a training provider, operators must consider what recent experience the trainers have in conducting these repair and maintenance tasks, and how much time have they been putting into applying their own skills in recent months?
The industry needs training to be delivered direct from the blade edge, taking lessons learned up-tower straight on to the training course. It isn’t only turbine technology that is evolving, the technology used by technicians also moves rapidly and trainees should be exposed to the latest developments.
What technology is involved?
Rotor blade service providers use a wide range of technologies in their operations, including powered ascenders to speed access, drones for improving inspection procedures, and digital technologies for recording inspections, analysing repairs, and supporting maintenance practices including installing aerodynamic add-ons to improve blade performance.
The use of artificial intelligence is rising across the energy sector. And it is clear that in wind energy AI and machine learning technology have a strong future, being deployed in inspection roles in the sector even now.
Technologies such as robotics and AI are making progress is in the inspection of turbine blades, and while drone flights are currently piloted, it is expected that automated flights for inspections will become reality a lot sooner.
Therefore, operators will want to make sure their repair and maintenance technicians’ training course is in line with these developments.
Blade repair teams need to adapt to ensure they have the skills to continue to maintain turbine rotor blades in the best condition possible now and in the future. This will be realised over the long term by working with the right training providers to ensure your technicians not only have solid essential blade inspection and repair skills, but an openness to learning and new technology that will keep them at the leading edge of the sector.