ZF Services steps up a gear in wind farm O&M

Wind Energy Update speaks to Marcel Pooth, manager at wind energy O&M service provider ZF Services, about its strategy to break into the wind turbine gearbox market, and where wind farm O&M services are heading.

Marcel Pooth, Manager at wind energy O&M service provider ZF Services.

Interview by Rikki Stancich

Wind Energy Update: ZF Services is unique in that it provides not only gearbox maintenance and repair services for multiple brands, but can service the entire drive train. How many multi-brand service centres exist for wind turbine components service and maintenance today?

Marcel Pooth: There are a handful of smaller competitors and perhaps 4-5 big competitors. But what ultimately differentiates ZF Services from other manufacturers and other service providers is that we will be a gearbox OEM that can service multiple brands of gearboxes, drive trains and their components.

Wind Energy Update: ZF Service plans to introduce its own brand of gearboxes in 2012. What are the key features of these gearboxes and which market will you be targeting?

Marcel Pooth: Our strategy is to enter this business as an OEM. We are looking to enter the North American onshore market, at the 2MW platform for Vestas models.

The [Vestas] gearbox will be designed to fit into various different Vestas turbine models. The idea is to produce the turbine gearboxes in-house and to provide servicing for those gearboxes.

Wind Energy Update: How many wind energy-specific service centres does ZF now have in Europe, and how many more are planned?

Marcel Pooth: Our Dortmund Centre of Excellence her in Germany opened in 2007. We now have centres in Italy, Spain, UK, North America (Chicago). The next step is China.

Wind Energy Update: Would you say that the post-warranty market comprises the bulk of ZF’s client base?

Marcel Pooth: Post-warranty servicing is a big portion of the market for ZF. Our clients range from operators, to big O&M companies like Deutsche Windtechnik, Availon and Enertrac, through to the OEMs themselves, such as Vestas, who are looking for a cheaper, more flexible option for turbines that have come out of warranty.

ZF Sevices has a framework agreement with Vestas Northern Europe to service and repair gearboxes. The post-warranty market is a big part of the German market – mainly because it is such a mature market. There are not too many new erections, and while repowering is taking place, the potential of the post-warranty service market is quite big.

Wind Energy Update: With the bulk of new build wind farms now taking place offshore, is ZF services looking to capture the offshore market as well?

Marcel Pooth: We have already carried out in-field offshore repairs on several offshore wind farms. We are looking to enter this space, particularly in the UK, given the size of the market there.

Our focus will be mainly focused around providing the tooling and skilled personnel – trained technicians for offshore service, anything from changing a shaft, performing a and video endoscopy, or changing a bearing.

Wind Energy Update: A lot of the new machines being designed for offshore are gearless, direct drive turbines. As a gearbox service and maintenance company, does this suggest that you may need to revise your business strategy in the near future?

Marcel Pooth: There are plans for direct drive offshore turbines, but at this stage only a handful have been installed and most have yet to be proven.

The big impact we will see is ore on the raw materials and mechanical components side. It is the huge 5MW machines with huge gearboxes that will affect us, in terms of the work required to source bearings and raw materials.

To respond to this article, please write to the editor: Rikki Stancich