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Centre for Operational Excellence (COPE)

Faculty of Economics and Business
Centre for Operational Excellence (COPE)ProjectsWindmill service logistics

Windmill service logistics

While offshore windfarms can make a major contribution to the European production of energy, costs will have to go down by approximately 40%, though. Maintenance of the windmills, in particular, is a major expense. After all, it is far more difficult at sea than it is on the mainland to get the required amount of people and resources to the right place at the right time. In the next five years, scientific research will create a drop in logistic costs for maintenance of windmills at sea. Besides that, this research will help improve sustainability.

Research project for the purpose of improving opportunities for windmills at sea

Windfarms at sea are increasingly responsible for the production of electricity. Expectations are that offshore windfarms will account for 14% of the total energy demand in the European Union by 2030. For that purpose, over 200 billion euros will have to be invested in this sector in the next fifteen years. In 2030, it will employ a staggering 50,000 people. The sector is developing rapidly, in particular in the northern part of the Netherlands. Various parties, including the province of Groningen, are promoting the case for wind energy and are investing a great deal of money in this source of energy.

Although major progress is being made in the offshore wind sector, significant cost reductions are still needed. In fact, various offshore windfarms are dependent on subsidies. Maintenance of the windmills, in particular, is a major expense. After all, it is far more difficult at sea than it is on the mainland to get the required amount of people and resources to the right place at the right time. Just think of the cost of a hotel vessel required to accommodate maintenance personnel. Besides that, maintenance is often not possible because of the weather. If the wind force is greater than force 3, work up the masts is already very difficult. Finally, sustainability is becoming increasingly important with regard to proper logistic decision-making, not least where an energy source is concerned which bears the label 'green energy'.

New concepts, models and tools

The University of Groningen's Centre for Operational Excellence (COPE) has started a five-year research project into the service logistics relating to offshore windfarms. With the help of no fewer than twelve businesses and organisations, the researchers will develop new concepts, models and tools which will contribute to a reduction in logistic costs. Besides that, the research will bring about a positive effect on sustainability. Apart from the cost savings mentioned above (profit), improved maintenance planning and smarter logistics will help reduce CO2 emission (planet) and risks for maintenance staff (people).

While there is a significant concentration of know-how in the field of service logistics within the University of Groningen, it is mainly focused on the process industry and gas production in the province of Groningen. Based on scientific research, these skills and expertise in this research project will be increased in order to be able to answer questions about the best possible logistic infrastructure, the best possible inventory levels for spare parts and the most efficient transport planning.

Mathematical calculation models will not be able to answer all questions, though. All service providers involved will have to work together and consolidate their logistic flows to be able to reduce logistic costs considerably. Part of the research will therefore focus on setting up adequate partnerships and creating the confidence between all those involved which is required for that purpose.

Three PhD students and two postgraduates

The research team comprises five members - three PhD students and two postdoctoral researchers. Over the course of four years, the three PhD students will conduct research into the design of best possible logistic networks, advanced maintenance planning and the creation of partnerships. The two postdoctoral researchers will be appointed for two years and focus on transport optimisation by coordinating logistic flows and on testing the robustness and resilience of the concepts using simulation.

The consortium which contributes to the research and participates in it comprises organisations with different backgrounds, including:

  • a public authority such as the province of Groningen;
  • maintenance companies, including Siemens and Eekels Technology;
  • businesses which facilitate the maintenance required, such as Groningen Seaports and Wijnne Barends Logistics;
  • an expert in the supply of spare parts, such as DHL Supply Chain;
  • parties which supply supporting tools, including ECN, Eyewind and Oliveira;
  • knowledge partners, including Energy Valley and Dutch Institute World Class Maintenance.

All the parties are sharing their knowledge and experience and will collaborate in research studies and experiments. In addition to the province of Groningen, DHL Supply Chain makes a financial contribution, which is mainly designated for financing the postgraduate research into transport optimisation.

The research will be co-financed by the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in the framework of the research programme Sustainable Logistics.

Impetus for regional economy

The research further develops the Energy topic, which is one of the major research topics at the University of Groningen. It implies that the research results will facilitate the further development of the Groningen energy sector and provide a positive impulse to the regional economy. It also means that offshore windfarms will remain a research subject, even when this project has been concluded.

Furthermore, the outcomes will not only be suitable for use in service logistics in respect of offshore windfarms, but for many more sectors. In particular, they will apply to the way in which sustainability is incorporated in decisions regarding logistics. A major element of the project is the generalisation and distribution of new insights and models.

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