INTERVIEW: The future of O&M?

O&M in the global wind industry is changing, in no small part due to two young Dutchmen who were working in the aerospace industry.

After seeing how well major airlines worked together to pool resources such as spare parts, Marc Huyzer and Jochem Sauer realised the same collaboration would be beneficial to the wind industry. In September 2012, they launched Spares in Motion, an online peer-to-peer marketplace run along the same lines as Ebay to bring more transparency and reduce costs in the wind “aftermarket”.

Spares in Motion had just three customers at its launch. It now has more than 75 companies paying monthly subscriptions to buy and sell spare parts and second-hand turbines, or offer turbine repairs and other services — everything from blade inspection to remote monitoring, insurance and high-voltage training.

Sauer, Spares in Motion’s managing director, spoke to Recharge about the company and the O&M industry.

How did the O&M market develop in the aerospace sector? It’s interesting that in aerospace, the airlines and manufacturers said: “We are competitors, but for maintenance it would be good for us all to co-operate”, because it was in everybody’s interest to make sure that performance was right. So that meant that the industry moved to set up platforms where companies could share stock of spare parts and where information on stock levels was available to everyone — and this is what we are trying to achieve with Spares in Motion.

The first stock-sharing platform was put in place by airlines themselves in the 1990s, and the biggest platform, ILSmart, is now owned by Boeing, but used by everyone.

How does the aerospace industry ensure quality control for the parts? Well, it’s a more organised supply chain because of safety and standardisation. Companies that make parts need to have a licence and those that clear them must be trained and have authority to clear parts to a standard and declare them airworthy. If a component is repaired in aerospace, there has to be a sign-off, but in wind this is really based on trust at present.

So how do you deal with this issue on your platform? What we try and do is not authorise or certify the part, but use a rating system for the companies that use the platform, as other online platforms like Ebay and AirBnB do, and this should mean that if there are companies out there that do not provide quality, then they will soon be out of business. In practice, it’s one of the hardest things to get right, because quite often people do a deal and then forget to provide feedback.

How much traction have you had for the platform so far? We have about 75 sellers and all the major service providers, as well as Nordex, Acciona and Gamesa. We are in talks with one of the biggest OEMs at present. We have around 17,000 users registered to use the platform to buy. At the moment the focus is in Europe, but we are starting to have customers in the US as well. As more people start to use the platform, it becomes more powerful.

How do you think the O&M industry will change in the coming period? Independent service providers (ISPs) are growing, but big OEMs are also more focused on that market — it’s going to be a fight and we will see who will win. In aerospace, the ISPs maintained the biggest part of the market, but in wind, the OEMs are so aggressive with the maintenance concept that they are winning back market share.

One thing we see in aerospace is that when sales of aircraft go down, OEMs focus on maintenance to provide steady revenues, but when the market picks up they lose interest, because producing the machines is sexier.

What are the factors that influence which O&M strategy a wind farm operator goes for? There are two main segments. Where the banks have a big say, they demand that the OEMs are involved in maintenance, and look at things like turbine life extension, which the OEMs can do.

Then you have the utilities who often want to do it themselves, particularly in Europe. They are used to running other types of power plant like coal, gas and nuclear, so they have the ability to do sophisticated things, and they are increasingly appreciating the importance of having data.