Special delivery16 January 2023
Huge wind turbines are going up all over the world to generate power sustainably. Moving their long and heavy components to remote and mountain-top sites is a challenge and an opportunity for heavy transport specialists. Julian Champkin reports.
Looking about the landscape, in Europe and elsewhere, it is hard to avoid noticing the sudden proliferation of windfarms; and with it is has come the need to transport the components to build them.
Their rotors, in particular, have to be carried along often narrow and winding roads to their erection site which, by the nature of windfarms, is likely to be remote – often at the top of mountains and reachable only by roads that are steep, narrow, and winding.
Given that rotor sizes are increasing all the time – 30-plus metres long is now standard for onshore wind, with offshore installations considerably larger still – and that blades must be transported in one piece as a single unit, this is by no means simple.
Specialised transport companies, though, have been rising to the challenge. Belgian heavy-load specialist P. Adams, for example, has acquired three rotor blade transport systems (RBTS) from Tii Scheuerle. The forwarding company specialises in wind turbines, and its new RBTS are intended to handle the longest rotor blades on the market.
P. Adams received its first practical application in transporting just such a consignment, of 83-metre-long blades for a wind farm project in Sweden.
24 blades, for an eight wind-turbine farm, had to be transported along mainly country roads, from the port city of Uddevalla, in western Sweden, to Knöstad, which is located further 170km to the north-east in Varmland. Each blade took two full nights to transport.
In the process, the convoy had to manoeuvre around numerous bends and, at the approach to the construction site itself, had to negotiate steep gradients and unpaved roads. The particular challenge of this task was the length of the load. The loaded tractor-trailer combination was 96 metres long and weighed around 65 tonnes – the load itself was around 30 tonnes.
Luxembourg-based company Transpalux, which belongs to the P. Adams Group, performed the task. “Although the bends were widened, our operators still had to constantly adjust the steering,” reports Stephan Adams, managing director of the group.
The Scheuerle RBTS consists of a two-axle jeep dolly with a free-turning device and a four-axle trailing unit.
It is also possible to mount the free-turning device directly on the truck tractor, but this means that a four-axle or five-axle semi-trailer tractor is required due to the high fifth-wheel load; Transpalux uses three-axle vehicles.
“For blade lengths of more than 75 metres over long routes, there is no alternative to a trailer unit combination,” said Adams. The deployment marked a first for the RBTS at P. Adams. “Prior to this transport assignment, our drivers had only worked with telescopic semi-trailers and, until now, we had only had the opportunity to try out the RBTS in the form of a test load. In the end this wasn’t a problem for our drivers. They quickly became familiar with the equipment functions. It all worked out extremely well.”
The comparatively simple handling of the RBTS helped as well: “Our drivers mastered it in a very short time.”
One reason for choosing Tii Scheurle equipment was, he says, their understanding of the special requirements involved.
This included the request for a functionality that enhances safety and stability.
In order to keep the centre of gravity of the load as much as possible in the longitudinal axis of the vehicle, Adams required a lateral compensation feature that would shift the load to the left or right depending on the situation. Tii Scheuerle was able to successfully implement this.
Adams also praised the driving characteristics of the RBTS. “The manoeuvrability of the trailing unit combination is very convincing,” he said. “The RBTS negotiates bends that cannot be mastered with a telescopic semi-trailer without having to remove crash barriers or carry out widening measures.”
The lift, of up to two metres in the free-turning device, is also large enough to accommodate obstacles such as surface unevenness and bumps in the road. This results in fewer approvals from the authorities being needed.
For empty runs the RBTS can be shortened to form a semi-trailer combination which meets the European standard dimensions of 2.55 metres wide and less than four metres height.
The empty tractor-trailer combination weighs under 40 tonnes, which means that, again, driving without a load requires less approval procedure.
“The trend in the industry clearly points to ever more powerful systems with increasingly larger-dimensioned components,” said Adams. “Without a trailing unit system, fleets that specialise in the transport of rotor blades are no longer futureproof.”
The Faymonville Group also has new solutions to keep up with the high-speed roll-out of wind power.
At Bauma in October 2022 it showed a self-steering trailer combination as well as premiering the BladeMAX1000 rotor blade adapter from its specialist company Cometto.
The company does not see 30 or 40-metre blades as in any sense a limit. ‘In road transport of up to 100 metre-long wind turbine blades the future belongs to this flexible concept’, it claims.
Blade adapters are specialised vehicles designed to safely transport wind turbine blades over the last section of the route to the installation site.
They hold the blade at the root end only, at an angle with its tip pointing into the air. The BladeMAX1000 now brings the Cometto range to three, with the BladeMAX650 and BladeMAX800 being the other two variants. The BladeMAX1000 is the strongest of its type on the market with a load capacity of 1000 tonnes.
Goldhofer, too, was exhibiting at Bauma with wind-related transport in evidence. Its ‘BLADES plus’ airsuspension trailing dolly has been highly successful as a carrier for the wind power industry; but Goldhofer has now optimised and extended the concept so that it can be used in the construction industry in general, for example for transporting concrete beams, structural components or entire bridge elements.
For this purpose the trailing dolly is used in combination with a two-axle front dolly with a turntable. The added flexibility allows the dolly to be used for other purposes besides windfarms, so will give a faster return on investment for customers.
Goldhofer was also showing its FTV850 blade carrier for extra long and heavy turbine blades. It mounted it on a four-axle, self-propelled PST/SL-E split combination(1/2+1/2) widened to 4,010 mm – a new solution designed, it says, for maximum stability and safety even on the most challenging routes.
For an undoubtably-challenging project involving another Goldhofer blade lifter see the box.
Extending the applications of blade carriers is, of course, a sensible move on Goldhofer’s part.
The explosion in windfarms has in no way reduced the demand for moving other more traditional loads. So Cometto, mentioned above, in November 2022 sold 20 SPMT axle lines to the Hüffermann group for forthcoming heavy-duty transport missions.
The self-propelled electronically steered modular fleet is proposed for jobs in industry and bridge construction, plant and ship construction and for projects in the tightest areas. “The Cometto horizontal SPMT transport system has a current payload of 868 tonnes and is extraordinarily powerful,” says their sales manager Joachim Kolb.
Hüffermanns also has equipment from Enerpac, and believes the symbiosis between the two will work well. "Due to the optimal combination possibility of the SPMT with the lifting system / JS system from Enerpac, we can optimally complement our heavy load assembly and engineering division," says Rocco Schimmel, operations manager of Eisele AG, which is part of the Hufermann group. Eisele has received two sixaxle bogies, two four-axle bogies, a 368kW Powerpack Unit and another one of 129 kW as well as a turntable set for a 500 tons load as part of the delivery.
Mammoet moves Sweden's heaviest-ever load
Sweden is looking to increase its renewable wind energy to over 30% of its total power needs by 2024. Not only turbine components but other critical equipment such as transformers will have to be transported through some of the country’s most remote and mountainous terrain.
What is expected to become the country’s largest wind power cluster is being developed by energy company Ellevio in the remote Ljusdal municipality. A giant 390 tonne, 750MVA transformer was needed for the project. To reach the site it had to travel over 270km of a highly challenging route. It would also represent the heaviest transport ever to travel on Swedish roads. Mammoet worked closely with freight forwarder Martin Bencher to get the transformer to site on schedule.
Strong planning was a crucial fi rst step. Brendan James Daley, Mammoet Sweden’s sales engineer, explains: “The vast majority of roads in Sweden are not typically designed for heavy transport, and so it was crucial to have a full picture of the route from early in the project. We used planning work already undertaken by Martin Bencher and our Route Survey Tool to identify what was needed.
“The length of the route was such that a range of quite unusual preparatory work had to be undertaken. Technical assessments of road and bridge strength showed that reinforcements were needed in many places to ensure the weights involved could be withstood. In other places a 400mm depth of road had to be removed under bridges to ensure suffi cient headroom.
“All of this needed to be coordinated closely to ensure the correct permits and permissions from local authorities and police were in place – not least for the four occasions where the route crossed a railway line.”
Mammoet was able to draw on its inventory from across Europe for the equipment required. Power was provided by a standard prime mover supporting two 700hp Trojan trucks, capable of hauling 500 tonnes up a seven percent gradient.
The transformer was to be carried using the 400 tonne capacity AL500 girder frame, a design unique to Mammoet, that was developed specifi cally to allow maximum steering capabilities. This reduced the need for street furniture and obstacles to be removed along the route.
The frame sat on two 16-axle trailers, with a further eight axles added under the transformer when crossing some of the smaller bridges to ensure the load was spread appropriately.
The journey began at Hitachi Energy’s facility in Ludvika, travelling 125km over two nights to reach the Baltic port of Köping, from where Martin Bencher managed marine transport north to Iggesund.
From here, the fi nal 145km route was overland. This was the most challenging section of the project as, not only are the roads smaller in this less developed part of Sweden, but this stretch also contained four rail crossings where there were strict windows during which the load could pass, as well as fi ve bridges where the additional eight axle lines were required.
Transport was only permitted to occur at night; this meant an additional six nights were needed to reach the fi nal destination, the wind-farm site at Tovåsen, in the centre of the country, where a second specialist Mammoet team handled the jacking and skidding of the transformer into position onto its foundation.
Despite the complexity of this project, thorough planning and close partnership between Mammoet, Martin Bencher, Hitachi Energy and Ellevio meant that the transformer arrived on site as scheduled.
Goldhofer moves turbines and blades in Ecuador
The largest wind farm in Ecuador is being built in Loja Province. Called Minas de Huascachaca it comprises 14 wind turbines with a total capacity of 50 MW, which will supply 90,000 households with electricity. The contract to transport the turbines and blades was awarded to the Colombian special transport and lifting company Transportes Montejo.
Montejo’s fl eet includes a Goldhofer FTV 550 blade lifter, which has a load moment of 550 mt. That makes it able to transport the latest generation of wind turbine blades that are not only long and heavy but wide as well: they have a diameter of 3.4 m at the root. The great advantage of FTV 550 blade lifter is that the blades can be freely rotated around their own axis in order to keep them out of the wind during transport. The blades can also be angled as required up to a maximum angle of 60° to pass over or under obstacles. This is the key to savings as it minimises the need to remove or make changes to the roadside infrastructure.
With the FTV 550 mounted on a Goldhofer THP/SL heavy-duty module, Transportes Montejo was able to transport the 73 m long blades for a 4 MW Dongfang wind turbine up the winding road to the construction site on a plateau in the Andes. In such mountainous terrain, the Goldhofer FTV blade lifter gave a convincing demonstration of its capabilities; the Transportes Montejo crew raised and turned the blades to avoid contact with the steep slopes as the combination made its way up to the job site.
Scottish wind power work
UK based heavy transport specialist Collett and Sons is involved in a wind power project in Scotland.
In June 2022 it began delivery of 242 components to construct 22 Enercon E3 wind turbines at Creag Riabhach Wind Farm near Lairg in the North Highlands. These are 67m hub height turbines with blades 57m long.
Arriving at the Port of Nigg, the largest open port in the Moray Firth, the components face a 53-mile journey to the construction site. To survey the route the team undertook a test drive of the route using a 48m trailer complete with a 9m rear projection to simulate the loaded turbine blades.
The test drive identified route modifications, road widening requirements, and areas where street furniture needed to be removed and flower beds relocated to accommodate the wind turbine oversail. Collett then began transporting the 66 blades, 66 tower sections, 44 stator halves and 22 nacelles, hubs and rotor centres the 53 miles from Inverness to Lairg.
Using nine trailers across its fl eet to accommodate the varying components, with cargoes ranging from 31 to 73 tonnes, the team employed super wing carriers, clamp trailers, stepframes and 40ft fl ats to systematically deliver the components in line with the construction schedule. Travel was in convoys of three, and they use each of the trailer’s hydraulic capabilities to ensure a maximum traveling height of 4.95m throughout.
On arrival at Creag Riabhach the gradients, the variable weather and the way it affected site conditions, caused Collett to employ additional traction in the form of a double-drive towing vehicle travelling in front of the delivery convoys for the heaviest of the components. Once operational Creag Riabhach Wind Farm will generate up to 72.6MW of renewable energy to power 36,000 homes.
Transformer transportation avoids overload
UK based heavy transportation specialist Collett and Sons was tasked with transporting an 80 tonne transformer 230 miles to the Harting Rig wind farm substation in Lanarkshire, UK. Three miles from the site the load had to cross Glassford Bridge, where restrictions were in place; the loaded trailer and truck combination would have exceeded the maximum permitted weight.
At the bridge Collett's solution was to disconnect the loaded trailer from the 8x4 MAN TGX tractor unit. Then two 40m wire cables were attached, connecting the trailer and primary ballast truck of the tractor. A secondary 8x4 ballast tractor unit was connected to the rear of the trailer, again using 40m cables. With all other traffi c restricted, the secondary ballast tractor reversed and the primary drove forward. This tensioned the cable, removing any slack; then both vehicles began a slow drive forward. The cables allowed the tractor unit to clear the bridge before the trailer entered it; the weight of both was never on the bridge at the same time. Controlling the cable tensioning throughout, the primary tractor unit cleared the structure, followed by the trailer, transformer and Steersman in tow. With the ability to control the trailer steering and breaking, Collett’s steersman ensured that the trailer and cargo remained within the necessary alignment whilst traversing the structure. Once clear of the bridge, and with the trailer brake applied, the secondary ballast unit took up the cable stack and crossed Glassford Bridge.