Goldhofer extendable trailer used by Namakkal Transport Co for transporting individual wind turbine

Goldhofer extendable trailer used by Namakkal Transport Co for transporting individual wind turbine blades

Changes in requirements for lifting and transportation work to erect and maintain wind turbines in India for upcoming wind power projects is creating demand for newer cranes and transport solutions in the country. Partha Pratim Basistha reports

Demand for new cranes has remained subdued in India since 2007 due to low activity in core and industrial infrastructure sectors. However, thanks to Greenfield wind power projects, crane manufacturers and rental agencies are witnessing an upsurge in demand for medium and higher capacity cranes, along with the firming up of rental rates in India.

India plans to add 60,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power capacity by 2022 from the present level of 23,000 MW. Major wind power equipment manufacturers, including Inox Wind, Gamesa, Vestas, Enercon and Suzlon, are implementing a large number of projects across central, western and southern India, driving demand of crawler and wheeled cranes.

Gamesa now has a 250 and 300 MW wind power order from Orange Renewable and Greenko for installation in southern, central and north India. Inox Wind Limited has been awarded orders for 100 MW and 50 MW wind power projects by Ostro Energy and Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation in central and western India.

The demand for new cranes is to erect taller towers with hub heights between 90 and 120 metres. Tower diameters are from 3.8 to 5.4 m, and the heavier nacelles are between 72.3 and 106 tonnes. To get more wind - for producing more power - turbine manufacturers have been increasing hub heights during the last seven to eight years, first from 30 to 50 m, then to 72, 80, 90, 100, 108 and, more recently, 120 m. With an increase in height, power generating capacity of the mills has gone up from 250 kW to 2.5 MW.

Gamesa is planning to increase hub heights to 135 m in the next five years. Vestas will be putting up two 40 MW projects in Karnataka and Gujarat, and one of 80 MW in Tamil Nadu, with a hub height of 110 m, by June 2016. The company plans to execute a total of 400 MW from projects in 2016.

New heights

To work at greater heights, western India heavy lift company Amrik Singh & Sons has ordered a 600 tonne capacity Sany SCC 6000 WE crawler crane. According to Deepak Garg, Sany India CEO, “We have manufactured the crane following extensive consultation with turbine manufacturers in India and major Indian crane rental firms on present hub heights of 120 m and nacelle loads between 75 and 80 tonnes. The major attributes of the crane is its compactness and ease of assembly and disassembly for faster turnaround time on windmill sites.” Based on the growing demand from wind turbine projects, Sany India expects to sell several more cranes this year.

Another heavy lifting crane rental firm in western India, Shethia Erectors (specializing in wind power projects) has ordered six new Liebherr LR 1600/2 crawler cranes. The 600 tonners will be deployed to the Gamesa projects across Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in western and central India, and to Tamil Nadu in south India, to erect 2 MW wind turbines. The cranes will be working with a 138 m main boom and 12 m fixed jib to lift nacelles between 90 and 120 tonnes at a hub height of 120 m.

Mitesh Shethia, proprietor of Shethia Erectors, said, “The decision to acquire the LR 1600/2 is because the booms can be reconfigured based on future tower hub heights between 135 and 150 m.”

Steel Carriers India, another major crane rental firm, has ordered a brand new Terex AC 700 SSL all terrain crane. According to Sunil Makkad, Steel Carriers director, “We will be taking delivery of the crane in a few months’ time. The 700 tonne crane with 60 m main boom and 96 m luffing jib, will be deployed primarily for short term wind power maintenance jobs. The fully loaded crane will also be used for upcoming refinery maintenance and expansion projects in Gujarat.” Steel Carriers has 100, 350 and 500 tonne capacity Terex all terrain cranes working on blade repair jobs for wind power installations in Gujarat and Maharsahtra.

Sensing the growing business opportunities in wind power projects, Mumbai-based heavy lift firm, Barkat Hiring Co took delivery of a new 300 tonne capacity Grove GMK6300L all terrain crane in October 2015. Preet Bedi, partner at Barkat, said, “With growing requirements for cranes at short notice from turbine manufacturers, we have ordered another GMK6300L.” The order was expected to be received at the end of 2015 with plans for both of the fully loaded cranes to be deployed primarily for lifting and removal of blades with an 80 m main boom, lifting 12 tonnes at a 14 m working radius. Barkat recently completed a major maintenance project for Vestas’s wind farms with its 600 tonne capacity AC 650, all terrain crane in Gujarat. The job involved the bringing down and erecting of blades weighing 11.5 tonnes at hub height of 109 m.

Lift plan

The selection of cranes by wind turbine makers in India is based on their individual lifting plans. Safety factors and site conditions are major considerations behind working out the lifting plan and selecting the crane types.

According to Bipin Lunavia, Enercon chief technical officer, “We undertake three heavy lifts with crawler cranes for lifting the 45 to 70 tonne nacelles, the generators, and the hub and blades at our hub heights of 56 and 75 m. The nose cone, to be fitted at the front of the blades, is lifted separately to avoid damage.”

Muthukrishnan Bagavathi, manager of site support and cranes procurement at Vestas, said, “Our previous lifting plan was the individual lifting of nacelles weighing 50 tonnes. This was followed by single lifting of the rotor hub with blades. The present practice is to lift the nacelle, followed by the lifting of rotor hubs and blades separately. This is to ensure safety with the towers becoming taller.”

Wheeled cranes are usually used for erection of towers, preferably followed by crawler cranes for the heavier sections. However, this may vary based on the project cost and job duration. Crawler cranes are preferred by turbine manufacturers because of their higher lifting capacity at longer radius and their ability to move short distances with load. The ability of the crane to work in a constricted space, in contrast to wheeled cranes with outriggers spread, also makes them the preferred choice.

Transport solutions

The use of extendable trailers between 42 and 55 m long is relatively new in India for moving blades between 24.5, 36 and 45 m. These were moved in locally made, conventional tractor trailers six years ago. With the increasing presence of foreign turbine manufacturers in India, setting standards for safe transportation of the sensitive blade sections means that transporters have been acquiring extendable trailers in sizeable numbers. Affordability, however, has been an issue to procure foreign made extendable and hydraulic modular trailers.

New Delhi-based conventional tractor trailer manufacturer, Vishkarma Machine Tools (VMT) has been making 45 to 52 m extendable trailers and hydraulic modular trailers at its plant in Haryana in north India. Gurvinder Singh, VMT Industries managing director, explained, “So far we have supplied 52 extendable trailers to transporters across the country for moving blades. The competitively priced trailers are made of special alloys, which reduce the load, enabling the prime mover to provide lesser tractive effort, thereby reducing fuel costs.”

Singh added, “To provide original, cost-competitive solutions for windmill parts transporters, we manufactured a prototype and eventually carried out modifications based on customer feedback in the hydraulic axle modular trailers, featuring stability for safe cargo movement both through uniform and uneven roads.”

VMT makes hydraulic modular trailers from 2 to 6 axle lines with the gross weight of the trailers ranging from 36 to 108 tonnes and with payloads of 28 to 84 tonnes. The company is the major supplier to prominent Indian wind power transporters, including south India-based Namakkal Transport Carriers, Kamakshi Transport Co and Rameshwar Transport in Gujarat.

Based on requirements for safe transportation of blades and other wind turbine parts, Industrie Cometto India has entered into an engineering partnership with Chennai-based Sneritc Engineering. Ramesh Balan, head of business promotion at Cometto, India, said, “Sneritc will be designing and making jigs and fixtures as per requirements to the transport of single or twin blades on the extendable trailers. It will also render complete support services to transporters.” Cometto India said it sold fifteen extendable trailers in recent months to wind turbine transporters.

Uneven and otherwise poor road conditions and little space available for turning on sites is a major issue encountered by transport companies. According to Balan, “Owing to the constraints, there have been recent enquiries for adapter-based solutions for transporting tower sections and blades.”

With commissioning of wind power projects going up in India, there will also be growing requirements of newer value-based erection and transportation solutions backed by adequate product and services support.

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