Investigating the economic viability of a new approach to building and operating an offshore wind-farm, is not quite the staple diet of TWI's power generation team. But its business process support team is the home of several specialists in exactly this area. So when one of the UK's energy giants sought help with such a project TWI raised its hand enthusiastically.
The long term aim of the client called for floating platforms, each comprising a barge, wind tower, wind turbine system and oscillating water column hardware. They needed to be produced at around 100 units a year and, as ever, control of costs was vitally important.
The specific objectives facing TWI were;
- To assess and document the optimum location for building a prototype barge, highlighting the plusses and minuses of the options identified
- To examine the existing shipbuilding and general fabrication infrastructure locally and identify improvement opportunities
- To document a range of radical fabrication approaches for the high volume manufacture of such barges
TWI's analysis of the currently installed local fabrication infrastructure led to recommendations regarding the construction of a prototype barge using existing facilities and the types of processes that might be most effectively deployed. Through use of process and costing models, it also commented on what steps could be taken to improve productivity within existing locations, through further investment in the latest manufacturing technology applicable within the shipbuilding industry.
TWI's report concluded that wind towers could be provided at the required volumes with relative ease, although some investment, in welding and coating systems would be needed to enable the existing wind tower fabrication infrastructure to cope with the higher manufacturing volumes predicted by the client.
Where the floating structures were concerned, a staged investment plan could be carried out, advised TWI, predicting a potential doubling in capacity from around 10 units per annum to 20 for a single production line. Due to space restrictions and logistic concerns, no single site should be expected to exceed that annual production level, therefore several locations would require development for barge production. Development of a bespoke facility capable of producing up to the 100 barges per annum target level, remained as a high-risk option.
TWI also commented on the retirement trends of the local work force. Within 10 years there would be a dramatic reduction in locally available effort. The effects would be far reaching unless a programme of training was established for newcomers taking the place of retired skilled workers.
Looking to a more radical approach, TWI advised that stiffened steel panel structures could be replaced with Sandwich Panel Systems, a material developed by Intelligent Engineering. A second alternative highlighted the use of glass reinforced plastic panels, produced by pultrusion. Finally TWI would be able to advise on investment decisions for improved welding and coating technologies required for both the wind tower and barge manufacture.
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