Reflections on the Wind Tower Service Lift IndustryDoug Guderian
In the 3 years that Elevator One Inc. has been involved in the wind tower service lift industry in Ontario, Canada we have learned many things and have worked with some great individuals and organizations.
While installing and maintaining 100’s of service lifts in wind towers, we have made some interesting observations:
The entire wind industry is still struggling with how to efficiently handle and coordinate the differing and complex relationships between the stakeholders in regard to the service lifts for the following reasons:
- The lift installation companies are used to purchasing the material that they install and having direct control of the relationship with the manufacturer
- The lift installation companies are also used to working for one customer for the entire scope of their lift installation and licencing, not 3 to 5 customers as is sometimes the case on wind projects
- On most projects, the lift installation company is 3 to 5 steps removed from the lift manufacturer
- The tower manufacturers must accurately coordinate their product and their sub trades to accommodate the lift
- The tower and lift manufacturers’ products and engineering processes are not accustomed to the level of scrutiny that TSSA’s engineering and field inspection staff apply to the product in the Ontario market
- Coordination shortcomings between the tower manufacturer and lift manufacturer do not come to light until the lift installation process begins
- The resulting product shortcoming and managing the costs associated with correcting them becomes very complex and time consuming
- Due to the tight schedules on the projects, installations must usually continue before the final solutions to problems can be found. This nature of the business significantly increases the costs of any solutions.
- Additional problems often don’t come to light until the TSSA inspections start after power back-feed. At this point the majority of the lifts are already complete increasing the complexity of the coordination of the solutions once again since the towers are usually under the control of the tower manufacturer at this point.
The start-up costs of getting into this line of work is quite high for Elevator Contractors. The high costs of safety equipment, installation equipment, the days to weeks of mandatory training and orientation for each worker, the continuous daily and weekly coordination meetings etc. are all many multiples higher than in other “typical” elevator contractor work.
Due to these and other challenges, we have seen about a half dozen TSSA licensed commercial elevator companies try their hand at wind tower lift installations on one project and then leave the industry entirely with no intentions to ever return.
One example of some of the fallout of the long, difficult and steep learning curve for wind tower service lift companies was recently highlighted when we performed the first annual inspections on one wind farm that had been installed by a company that subsequently left the industry. We had to lock-out over 90% of the 1-year old lifts due to major safety violations that could not be corrected without purchasing numerous parts and a significant amount of field labour.
8 Steps to Avoid Common Mistakes in Hiring a Wind Tower Service Lift Contractor
- Hire a company that meets the Ontario Legislation by utilizing only EDM Ontario certified labour to perform the installation work. (Copies of the EDM license’s demonstrate this)
- Hire a company with a proven track record and longevity
- Check for experience in Ontario with numerous projects with different tower and lift manufacturers
- Find out how long the company has been in business to ensure that they will be around and viable for the duration of the project and the life of the service lifts
- Check for a team with multiple employees capable of performing every function in the process. This allows the company to scale up as needed when the pace on a particular site needs to be accelerated. For example multiple EDM-A licensed elevator mechanics with wind experience may be needed to quickly get many lifts through TSSA inspections.
- Can the company provide bonding if required?
- Check for membership in the related professional organizations such as:
– CECA – Canadian Elevator Contractors Association
– CANWEA – Canadian Wind Energy Association
– APEO – Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario
- Check out the TSSA Rating of the contractor (all reasonably active Ontario elevator maintenance contractors receive an annual “report card” from TSSA detailing their recent performance and they can provide you a copy)
- Verify the Ontario residency of the site workers to ensure compliance with FIT requirements
- Investigate the potential impact and coordination of unionized or non-unionized labour
- Ask for references from similar previous projects from all of the stakeholders on projects and ACTUALLY CALL THEM! Be sure to talk to the erection contractor, tower manufacturers, and lift manufacturers, owners etc. to see how the contractor managed all of these relationships.
- Ask if your contemplated lift contractor builds in costs for minor unforeseen coordination and rework issues into their pricing. If so obtain clarity on how that will be structured and managed.
- Ensure that the required scope of work of your lift contractor covers everything that you need and that there are no gaps or ambiguities. Some common areas of misalignment can be TSSA standardized submissions, TSSA site specific submissions, TSSA submission fees, lift manufacturer mandatory training costs, lift installation labour, wind/lighting delays, overtime work, remobilizations to completed towers, generator rental and relocating, TSSA inspection labour and TSSA inspection fees.