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This wind firm has experienced a streak of gearbox failures in the last couple of years necessitating its change altogether. The main cause of this failure has been found to be with the conventional rotor support structure used at this wind firm. This translates that the gearbox is made to undertake both structural and mechanical functionalities simultaneously (Hemami, 2011). This indeed renders it more challenging to simulate loads in the desired manner particularly at the design stage. Given that the gearbox is typically meant to withhold mechanical loads, this turns out to be essentially critical in a gearbox which is a very complex component (Spera, 1984).

In order to address this recurring menace, the wind firm has opted to replace the gearbox with a new and unique rotor support concept that protects the gearbox along with other drive train components from the deflection loads. In this new arrangement, the rotor shall not be supported by the gearbox but instead shall be directly supported by a cast frame mounted on two main bearings. As such, the pair of bearings serves to divert weight along with other loads to the main frame meaning that the torque transmission will be independent of the rotor support. There is room for the gearbox to pivot freely whenever the bedplate happens to deflect (Spera, 1984).

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There is no doubt  that the gearbox failure has had far reaching effects on this  wind firm in the sense that it requires high cost of replacing it besides resulting in much downtime. It is feared that the gearbox failure will typically result in two to three times more downtime compared to failure of any other component. Though customers have invested in a few spare gearboxes to deal with isolated failure cases in this wind firm, it must be noted that mobilizing the money to keep spares in inventories for a full fleet of wind turbines is a significant challenge. It is such uncertainty that has contributed a significant unavailability risk to the cost of gearbox replacement because it is often difficult to assess and include it in the wind farm business plans.

The process of replacing a gearbox is one that entails primarily the cost of the gearbox itself. This is no mean amount as it costs about 10% of the entire wind turbine expense together with the man-hours consumed on the replacement process itself. Given the gearbox replacement process is expected to last some two weeks, it is estimated that it will  cost the firm in the range of $200,000 and $3500,000 considering that the crane and its operators are rented by the day for about $10,000. The additional costs will be in form of transportation costs to the site, compensation for the man-hours together with mobilization costs (Hemami, 2011). The initial stage was to hire a crane that is sufficiently capable of lifting the 25 ton piece of machinery from a tightly confined space. This must be lifted some 280 feet in the air and then placed on the ground after which the replacement gearbox is put backup.

First there is the removing of the bolt from the coupler which couples intermediate shaft to the input shaft of the rotor gearbox. This shall be followed by removal of the power steering hoses from the steering gearbox. It is easier to have the lines loosened while the gearbox is still mounted followed by removal of the lines themselves after the unbolting of the gearbox from the chassis. After this, there shall be removal of the cotter key together with the nut retaining the tie rod end. The rod end shall then be separated from the pitman arm using a tie rod puller (Hemami, 2011). This should be followed by removal of the nut which holds the pitman arm to the sector shaft of the gearbox. The pitman arm shall then be removed using a pitman arm puller. A critical point approaches with the removal of the mount bolts that hold the gearbox in the chassis. Finally the old faulty gearbox shall be carefully and slowly craned to the ground (Jha, 2010).

First, mount brackets shall be carefully attached to the new gearbox before being craned up to the appropriate position at the heart of the windmill engine. Then it will be connected to the intermediate shaft coupler of the input shaft of the gearbox itself. Care shall be taken to ensure that gearbox coupler is properly aligned during the process of sliding it back over the input shaft of the gearbox. All mount bolts must be installed with locking washers together with grade 8 or O.E. hardware. The operators shall then make sure to center the sector shaft of the gearbox and then affix the pitman arm to the sector shaft of the gearbox. This should be followed by attaching the tie rod end to the pitman arm and thereafter installing the retaining nut and cotter key (Hemami, 2011).

The next step shall be to affix the power steering hoses to the pump and then the gearbox succeeded by the attaching of the bolt to the coupler which couples the intermediate shaft to the input shaft of the gearbox. The last action after the gearbox is in place and everything has been reattached will be to conduct an inspection of the sides of the case ensuring that there is nothing pressing up near the cylinder walls of the gearbox and then testing of the wind turbine for effectiveness.

There are a number of hazards that could be encountered during the gearbox replacement process at the wind mill base.

The most significant danger can be caused by the rotor when is in motion. This is because the rotor blades have sharp edges that can easily result in fatal injury even when rotating at a rotation speed. As a precaution, therefore, I would advice all those working at the site to take care not to touch the rotating blades of the turbine or not attempt to halt the rotation of the rotor by means of hand. Furthermore, given that it is a confined area, I would ensure that only a few necessary personnel operate in the vicinity at any given time (Allsop, 2002).

Electrical dangers could result in instances where the electrical connection to the load is broken meaning that the generator is running in idle. This can result in a very high no-load voltage. To this effect, I would ensure that only authorized personnel work on all electrical machines at the site (Hemami, 2011).

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