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Wind Gearboxes, Social Justice and Neurodiversity

by Mentatmark Sat Oct 30th, 2010 at 03:38:00 PM EST

This was originally a comment on Open Thread Thursday titled "I Seek Advice." There were quite a few comments that should be read, and a couple included the suggestion that this be turned into a diary. After some minor editing of the original for clarification I now post this diary...

I Seek Advice

I preface this with the information that I am autistic. I know that frequently I lack understanding of limits and social norms. If this post would better fit as a diary, or some other forum, then please, let me know. If I talk about names or companies that perhaps could be considered by most as crossing a line, again, please just let me know. Also, my positions with the Company are union steward with an interest in keeping and creating good paying jobs at my plant and that of a quality control inspector who happens to have an engineering degree. As I frequently say, "Forewarned is foreskinned." Rest in Peace, Benny Hill. Ditto William Archibald Spooner.

Yesterday, I went to a Diversity Day event at work, in Erie, PA, USA. Our biggest (literally and monetarily) product here is the 4400 hp freight locomotive we build. I won't go into details here about the event itself, because this is more a question for this community related to a conversation I had with a manager at the "networking luncheon" afterwords that builds windmill gearboxes at our GE plant. If there are those out there in this community that might be interested in my questions on neurodiversity to the Corporate panel that included the Vice Chairman, John Rice, and my discussions with some of them afterwords, just ask. I am also a neurodiversity advocate.

This manager and I talked about wind energy. He told me that he was working to build interest for a longer life gearbox that we could be making here that would be sold to windfarms as the original gearboxes began to need replaced. As he explained it to me, he believes that most of the windmills sold (I think/hope he was referring to our competitors) had a gearbox that was engineered to last at least as long as the warranty, and maybe even a couple of months more. He told me that he saw a market in making replacements that would last 5 years or longer because of using better quality materials and parts and selling them to windfarms for any manufacturer's windmills. While I could (and would be happy to, I'm an Aspie) explain designing gears, bearings, and shafts to have a greater life cycle through material selection, FEA and whatnot, that is not important to understand for this question. But it is germane to any questions of "How?" If you are interested as a potential customer for this and want technical details, or another Aspie that finds stuff like that interesting, then email me. I'll answer the Aspies and the customers will get stuck with, I mean forwarded to, someone from the Company. ;-)

I do not know the reputations of various makes and models of windmills, and only pray that this community does not see the gearboxes we in Erie make as a piece of junk.  I do know the people in that part of the factory and their commitment to quality, from both the workers and management, especially those that went through GE Erie's 4 year apprenticeship program both before me and after. And I think I know which windmill gearbox we build. That would be for the 1.5 MW GE windmill. I hope I am not trying to sell everyone a Ford Pinto gas tank for their Rollses, Beemers, Mercedes, etc. For all I know, he was also talking about our own units and the difference between what we make, and what he thinks we should make.

So, to make a long story longer, I finally get to the point. The premise is that my factory can make gearboxes that last at least 4-6 years for any manufacturer's equipment and most or all models.

Is there a need for a longer lasting gearbox at rebuild time to increase uptime by decreasing gearbox replacement frequency?
Would the windfarms be interested in the availability of a longer lasting alternative to what the original manufacturer can supply?
And besides this community, what other forums might I go to, as someone that in no way represents GE, to get feedback?

End of original post, after a few minor edits. Following is a couple of the comments, edited only by cutting portions I did not think were relevant to the overall discussion. The first comment is from Crazy Horse, and his reply made me realize I did not clearly ask the questions. He seemed to think I was asking about ONLY the gearbox we currently make. I reread my post and hopefully made it clearer, and I include his comments with the warning that his answers were to the original post and so may seem disjointed from the current thread for that reason.

From Crazy Horse

regarding gearboxes, one should assume that GE has significant ongoing research into gearbox design and QC at very high levels.  there are several different plants making gearboxes for their 1.5 series, and some are purchased from other vendors.

all gearboxes in the current state of the industry are designed with significant FEA analyses, and long operational experience as feedback. GE has a complete division elsewhere doing extensive design calculation, as they began to fabricate their own gearboxes. I would also expect they have a process for accepting new ideas.

You could email me with more detail if you wish, I could possible communicate with one of the design engineers i met a few years ago.

One could also expect the 1.5 series to be phased out over time.  The success of the 2.5 machine here in Yurp meant GE introduced it to the US a year ahead of schedule, this year. That turbine will gradually take significant market share, especially as model variation occurs.

Skennah Kowa

From Mentatmark

I am all too aware of the 2.5 MW turbine, proudly made by the least expensive Chinese Communist workers GE could profitably outsource to. As a Union Activist and Steward of the UE, a union with a long and proud worker/socialist view, I applaud the efforts of the workers in China to demand a more fare share of the money being made off of their sweat and blood. I encourage all fair trade efforts that see organizing, safety issues, and environmental concerns as a way of equalizing the benefits of the global economy. Until then, I will push for making ALL green projects domestically, but by whatever company that gets the contract. I see GE and others taking work out of the US, making that same product elsewhere, then selling the product here. Thereby avoiding the taxes for the value added to the product by the manufacturing of it because the value was not added here. (note to self:"Settle down Mark, this is not the forum for addressing the social inequities of the world caused by the greed of the Corporatists")

The concern I address is because the gearboxes we currently make are going away, and the newest tech that GE seems to see in the future is direct drive. They have decided that they will not bring any off that to our factory here in Erie, PA.

First, by it's very nature, and I'm just going on the name Direct Drive as I have no specifics, a gearbox is not needed. Second, as I mentioned, we are represented by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. We are a union that is, perhaps should we say, less "obliging" to Corporate desires to increase profits at the expense of the workers than others. They would also prefer to go to "Right to Work" states, most of which have the lowest labor costs and the least worker protections. Some are even in violation of the Declaration of Human Rights.

To be continued, I must go to work.

From siegestate

Don't stop now~!

(note to self:"Settle down Mark, this is not the forum for addressing the social inequities of the world caused by the greed of the Corporatists")

If not here, where.

You have hit an important note. That being a progressive and defending workers rights is a universal theme. We can't be progressive only in our front yard...or we'll never be able to afford a back yard.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

from Melanchthon

I second siegestate: this is precisely the forum for addressing the social inequities of the world caused by the greed of the Corporatists!

"Ce qui vient au monde pour ne rien troubler ne mérite ni égards ni patience." René Char

From Crazy Horse

Though i thought the 2.5 was made in Yurp, and that GE was using a factory in Florida to make it for the US markt.

Skennah Kowa

From Helen

another forum, try the Oil drum

keep to the Fen Causeway

New Material

Crazy Horse, when GE was getting ready to go with the 2.5, the press releases from GE said the Chinese were going to be building a significant portion. Our gearbox line would not be doing the 2.5 model gearbox, GE chose to "offshore" it.

I can't speak on the Florida piece, I will have to look into that. They would be one of those "Right to Work" without a union for peanuts states I mentioned.

The Yurp portion would make sense from a domestic content prospective. After the US stimulus, almost all my tax dollars spent on the windmill portion of that bill went to China.

I would think that at this early point in the history of wind turbines, much of the value is still in the design of the systems, as compared to the manufacture. So societies with better engineers should still have an advantage over those who simply offer cheap manufacturing. One might gloomily wonder whether the west has better engineers...
by asdf on Sun Oct 31st, 2010 at 11:31:55 AM EST
Engineering is global, and designs are easier to ship around the world than those goods. It is less "which country" and more "which multinational corporation" that has the best engineers that make a difference.

When it comes to outsourcing to save labor costs, I think the biggest savings could be from outsourcing the top layers of corporation executives to cheap labor markets. Big savings on office space, in Juarez Mexico, for instance. Offices are easier to move than factories.

by Mentatmark (mentatmark at gmail dot com) on Sun Oct 31st, 2010 at 02:48:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe not.
Top executives are paid more in Mexico than in almost any other country in the world, according to a report by Towers Perrin, the global management consultants. Even so, another study says, bosses here have only just recovered the purchasing power they enjoyed before the peso crash almost a decade ago.
So while it would be cheaper that the U.S., you could do much better elsewhere. Japan, for example.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Oct 31st, 2010 at 03:14:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not want to start a flame war by suggesting any one country is the worst. It might be fun, but it might be more fun to perhaps suggest what countries best protect workers from abuses and protect their rights while encouraging business to locate or stay there.
by Mentatmark (mentatmark at gmail dot com) on Sun Oct 31st, 2010 at 05:11:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I wasn't talking about workers but about executives. Besides being fun, there might be a connection between low pay for executives and better conditions for workers, at least when it points to a smaller gap between rich and poor, rather than to lower wages all round.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Oct 31st, 2010 at 05:17:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am to go to an award dinner tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, PA, USA honoring Noam Chomsky. I will try to get some pictures or whatever while I am there. Never seen him, any advice? This social Justice stuff is right up his alley. The award is from the Thomas Merton Center.
by Mentatmark (mentatmark at gmail dot com) on Sun Oct 31st, 2010 at 05:30:49 PM EST

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