Platform concept means lower cost generators

2011-01-27 - New wind power generators from ABB combine a standard base construction with customized interface connections, lowering costs for turbine manufacturers and shortening delivery times.

“It all began when our market intelligence revealed big changes taking place in the wind turbine industry,” says Raimo Sakki, R&D Manager for Wind power generators at ABB. “Previously wind power generators had proprietary components, custom-designed to fit an individual manufacturer’s turbines. We saw that turbine manufacturers were showing interest in standard generators – provided that they were specifically designed for wind turbines.”

Accordingly, ABB took the strategic decision to complement its proprietary generators with a new range of standard units based on its own platform. Market surveys helped map out the detailed requirements; while the new generators would be standardized as much as possible in order to maximize the benefits of large-scale production, they also needed the flexibility to accommodate different manufacturers’ interface needs. ABB chose a modular approach, building the required interface flexibility around a core made from a relatively small number of basic components.

Demand-driven development

Raimo Sakki
“The most difficult task was defining the basic design requirements,” says Sakki. “Once we had done that, we could get on with the development work – which was made easier by the fact that the new products are based on the proven technology of our earlier designs.”

ABB began building the first prototype, but soon faced a new challenge. Sakki says, “Our sales team found a lot of interest among customers, who began giving us their own requirements. As a result we ended up ‘aiming at a moving target’ and making several different prototypes. There´s no denying that developing a platform in such a fast-moving environment was a learning process for us, and it considerably speeded up the project as a whole.”

Two new product series

The first product family built on ABB’s standard platform is the new 1.5 – 2.0 MW slip-ring generator series. Launched in June 2010, the new generators have been developed to fit most doubly-fed (DF) turbines. They feature an enhanced rotor design with patented carbon-fiber winding-end support rings. This innovative solution enhances overspeed withstand and improves cooling of the rotor winding and connections, resulting in better overall reliability. The new platform was designed to be easily expandable and also serve as a basis for permanent magnet (PM) and induction generators.

In September the same year, ABB launched another product series, the 2.5 –3.5 MW high speed PM generators, which shares the same basic platform as the DF series; they are, in fact, mechanically interchangeable (i.e., wind turbine manufacturers may use the same drivetrain design for both types of generators). This makes it easy for turbine manufacturers to expand their existing DF offering to also include full converter (FC) PM turbines. A customer using a DF system who would like to test a PM generator can order a unit with identical fixings and interfaces that can be simply ‘slotted in’ to replace the DF unit.

Accelerated development cycles

“One of the major benefits of the standard-platform approach is that development cycles speed up,” says Sakki. “That means much faster prototype delivery times for customers. Previously, a custom-designed generator would typically take about nine months to develop, but now the standard platform has cut this time by about half. The engineering work alone has been reduced from four months to just four weeks.”

From the outset the new generators were developed to allow a global approach to design, sourcing and manufacturing. They can be manufactured at all of ABB’s wind power generator plants, for instance, and sold to customers anywhere around the world.

“This approach is more customer-oriented,” says Sakki. “For example, a customer in China can talk to our people in China, and the engineering work can be done in our local office there. The bulk of the work is therefore done as close as possible to the customer.”

Decades of experience

ABB is the global leader in generators for wind turbines, having supplied 30,000 generators over the last three decades. ABB’s first megawatt-class DF generator was built in 1997, followed by the first megawatt-class PM generator for wind power in 1999. ABB has been building motors and generators for more than 100 years.

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