Clean, renewable wind power is now available in over 90 countries, and the wind energy industry is growing rapidly. The Global Wind Energy Council reported a 12.6% growth in cumulative wind energy capacity last year alone. As you drive along a rural highway in Texas or fly over the Gansu Wind Farm in China, rows and rows of high-tech wind turbines atop imposing towers provide an awe-inspiring vista.
Yet for all their technology triumphs, digitizing the jobs of technicians in the field has not been a high priority for most wind-energy companies. These jobs are rugged and highly physical. A typical scenario looks something like this: A skilled turbine technician climbs to the top of a platform in the sky to assess a broken machine, sometimes in inclement conditions. He takes photos and notes, then climbs down, drives back to HQ and fills out the paperwork to make a report and order parts.
This tedious paper trail — and the time lag it creates — costs money and delays progress. For a wind-energy company to be efficient and competitive, decision-makers need to know what's happening now, not later.
Vestas, the world’s biggest manufacturer of wind turbines, imagined a new scenario: a technician climbs the platform, takes photos with his phone, instantly uploads them to a project folder, makes a report, and orders parts — right then and there. By changing the model with cloud-based data capture solutions, Vestas is speeding up and simplifying the job of workers in the field and saving wind-energy companies time and money.
"We have over 10,000 employees, so if you save them ten minutes each, that’s a lot of time.”
Mobility, reinvented for maintenance
To achieve this vision. David Woodard, Lean Systems Engineer at Vestas, turned to Box.
Where technicians used to have to take pictures in the field, fill out paperwork and file it all later, Box's cloud-based content management systems enables them to upload photos and data and make reports right from mobile devices in the field.
With data in a digital form, Vestas’ technicians can better conduct calculations and see what’s happening with turbines instantly rather than having to process all the paperwork and wait a month. It speeds up the time of finding out which turbines are faulting, where they’re faulting, and making it swifter to order parts.
This focus on mobility has been a key differentiator for a company where so much of the workforce consists of skilled labor in the field.
“In a lean team, we like to leverage our employee genius that’s out in the field.”
A dedication to iteration
Digital transformation is an iterative journey. As Woodard describes it, Vestas started small with theirs — simply taking paper spreadsheets and putting them online.
“We had tried to take big steps before in the past and they failed,” says Woodard, “too much confusion with something new, a lot of bugs and issues that no one wanted to deal with.” Starting with a simple proof of concept — proving that an idea will actually work — gets people on board.
When Woodard proved that Vestas could save money and get better results and shorten maintenance cycles by enabling technicians to do more of the work right in the field by enabling content in the cloud, the company’s leadership was excited to hear what else technology could do.
Full, flexible control over content governance
One of the reasons Box has worked as a solution is the flexibility of information governance. Sometimes, it’s important for customers to see data and reporting on machinery in order to get the full picture of what needs to be done. Other times, it’s better if they only get a high-level view and are shielded from some of the particulars.
Because Box allows content sharing that’s flexible on a per-customer, per-file basis, Vestas can better control who sees what, when. “It can be tricky,” says Woodard. “But that’s why we like Box, because it’s flexible enough to let us do what we want to do on a case-by-case basis.”
"We didn’t come into this with a clear path to information governance other than separating customers from internal.”
Layers of versatile content in the cloud
Box acts as a unified content layer for Vestas overall digital approach. The company also has an internal dashboard to display all the turbine data, customer performance data, and quality data, which sits on a SQL database. They also have an Amazon-like internal marketplace for ordering turbine parts.
That marketplace technology sends data to Box, which runs on a server that consolidates all the information back to the main dashboard. By refreshing data every few hours, this digital experience closely simulates real-time for employees and company leaders.
Says Woodard.” It's been cool to see how we’ve adapted from a small idea to progressively elaborate to something that works for the techs in the field and capitalizes on their employee genius.” But Woodard envisions a future for the energy industry and his company that involves more sophisticated and utterly integrated digital tools — like machine intelligence for diagnostics. That future is not far away.