Winds of change: how TGM Wind Services is changing the lift market

By Lindsey Anderson14 January 2010

TGM Wind Services purchased two Bronto Skylift S 90 HLA units in 2009.

TGM Wind Services purchased two Bronto Skylift S 90 HLA units in 2009.

For owning the tallest aerial work platforms the North American market has ever seen, it took a recent trip to Finland for Kevin Darby to actually get up in a 295-foot Bronto.

Darby's company recently bought two European-built Bronto Skylift truck-mounted aerial work platforms that will get him and his customers at working heights of almost 300 feet. Good thing he's not afraid of heights, that's way up there.

Darby is president of TGM Wind Services, an Abilene, Texas-based company that has worn many different hats during its existence. "When I first started (the company), I worked under a different name which was called Total Grounds Maintenance, and that company - it still exists - does work for the military around military bases," Darby says.

"How TGM got started was, I came into the office one day and decided I got tired of working for the military. I decided the wind industry was where the money was at and went for it from there."

The new TGM that Darby runs today started in February 2009 is a full service company for the wind power industry. "We do everything," Darby says, "From storage to blade inventory management to the logistics in the on-loading and off-loading of blades, we give them all the services they need in one packaged deal."

TGM's latest initiative is the acquisition of massive aerial platforms to help to inspect and repair wind turbines that typically reach anywhere from 190 to 300-feet-tall.

The turbines depend on clean, damage-free blades to provide the ultimate amount of wind power energy. To inspect them, the only option is to rent a crane and use a man basket, climb through the center of the turbine and attach a suspended scaffold, or use a truck-mounted aerial work platform, which is where TGM comes in.

"When you think about a guy having to climb a turbine and hook up cables on a (suspended scaffold)-style basket, they still have to connect themselves to the turbine, they have to climb the turbine and you have the liability of being inside the turbine," Darby says.

"Then the Bronto Skylift came about and we decided that was the route that the wind industry here needed."

Big, bigger, biggest

TGM has ordered two Bronto Skylift S90HLA units. The truck-mounted aerials - made by Bronto at its headquarters in Tampere, Finland - reach a staggering 295 feet (90m).

"With cost and time efficiency, when you look at the Bronto, we can set up in 15 minutes and be 90 meters [295 feet] operating and doing whatever service it is that needs to be done, and the only part of the turbine we'll be touching is the part that we need to touch," Darby says.

"So the liability on the customer is greatly reduced and at the same time, our time efficiency for the customer is, too. We can perform our services 100 to 200 percent faster than any other method out there."

Darby says the Bronto, to TGM, is the safest available machine out there due to its reliability and efficiency. "From our military experience, our whole company's geared around safety; we've just had to be that way," he says.

"The controls are so smooth. Everything they've integrated into the machine, it's phenomenal.

"The Bronto's ability to dial in the hydraulics system to [set] exactly how fast you want to move, how fast you want it to go at a certain height, it really allows a company owner, like me, to helpinsure that the guys don't have an accident out there on the field.

"I've been on many self-propelled units, so that was the biggest key feature to me - the safety aspect and how gentle and comfortable you feel in the machine."

TGM isn't the only North American company to own Bronto's - many fire brigades use Bronto fire fighting units and there are rental companies like Pennsylvania's Hinkel Equipment Rental that have Bronto's in their fleets.

However, TGM is among the first to invest in the 295 foot units. The nearest US-made machine is Time Manufacturing's 210 feet Condor unit.

Turbine maintenance

The Brontos will be used for inspection of wind turbine blades, which are generally inspected once a year, Darby says, though there are no regulations stating how often a turbine needs inspection and it is usually up to the owner's discretion.

"After a site has gone up and [the turbine] is erected, some inspect to insure there was no damage done by the transportation company or the crane company who were actually erecting the turbine and putting everything up in the air," Darby says.

Annual blade cleaning also is recommended because it brings efficiency back to the turbine, Darby says. The service is a specialization of TGM's.

"It's a visual inspection, but more than anything, it's a cleaning of the leading edge of the blade, which will cause a huge increase in efficiency which will then maximize profits and returns on investments with turbines."

Dust and dirt will often collect on the leading edge of turbine blades and kill the vortex of the blade itself, Darby says.

TGM also can inspect welding, oil spills or leaks around the turbine, and, using special ultrasound technology, TGM has the ability to literally inspect inside the blade.

Shooting sound

By using ultrasound technology - which is shooting sound waves from one point to another and back - on turbine blades, TGM can determine if there is damage on the leading edge or trailing edge of the blade where bonding has separated.

"Using ultrasound, we read the front wall to the back wall and it will tell us if (inside the turbine) the pieces have separated or are not bonded, or if the layers have separated between the fiberglass," which is what turbine blades are typically comprised of, Darby says.

"It allows the customer the earliest detection of damage and will hopefully allow them to catch the damage to where they can repair the blade while it's still on the turbine - saving them an astronomical amount of money because they won't have to bring in a crane, bring the blade down and transport it offsite."

Darby says ultrasound is the most reliable and accurate inspection technique on the market currently and that TGM is one of the few, if only, companies providing the service. "It's not an easy thing to take to the air," he says.

"That's the beauty of the Bronto machine - it allows us to do all of that with our integrated electricity through it, the size of the basket and everything we have running up and down the machine that allows us to communicate properly."

The future

Darby predicts that within 12 months, more companies will catch on to not only the wind power inspection and repair market, but also to the Bronto Skylift units. "I truly see us having a lot of competition," he says.

"People are going to want the site owners and the customers to see these machines out on the field, and are going to want them over a crane and a man basket."

Darby predicts the wind power market expands across the central US, from Texas to North Dakota, within the next 10 to 15 years.

"(The trend) will be pretty consistent that every state going up the central to Midwest will have large wind farms," Darby says. "There won't be a lot of miles that you'll drive where you won't see them if you're going north and south."

Darby says Colorado and Kansas currently are strong in the wind power market and that the next states to catch on will be North Dakota and Minnesota.

"Once the transmission grid is put into place to handle the power, I think that's where you're going to see (the market) spread."

TGM has two more 295-foot Brontos on the order book, Darby says, and they plan on adding a 341-foot (104 m) unit to their fleet. (That's the highest reach platform ever built - the first has just been bought by a rental company in Finland, Janneniska.)

"It's definitely ... on the plan between us and Bronto before the end of the year to put it into production," he says.

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