Suspendem: Tending to the Wind Gods
Over the last two decades, the landscape of Quebec has undergone some changes. While it was not unusual to see wind turbines – the modern equivalent of the classic windmill – when travelling through Europe, the industry in Quebec was only in its earliest stages. The dominant view was of the giant towers erected by Hydro-Québec.
While they still account for only a small portion of our electrical power output, wind farms have expanded by leaps and bounds in recent years. They represent a clean and innovative contribution to our renewable energy supply.
Blade maintenance: an expanding market
“It takes extensive training and a special kind of person to work on blade maintenance 100 metres above the ground. Recruiting qualified staff is the key to our company’s success. We provide continuous training for our technicians, which entails significant investment.”
“Suspendem is generating economic spin-offs in the Gaspé region, and we hire local people to work in an innovative and highly specialized field. Obviously, operating costs would be lower if we were located nearer to major urban centres, but we made the choice to locate here in Gaspé, and we are very proud of it.” says Mr. Talbot.
Looking closer, we can only wonder at these twirling giants standing over 100 metres high. An obvious question comes to mind: how on earth does one go about providing safe and efficient maintenance and upkeep of their various components, particularly the blades? Suspendem Rope Access Inc., a company located in Gaspé, is nonetheless more than happy to rise to the daily challenge.
The company began operations in a small way in 2012, when it acquired its first platform. However, as more and more companies got into the manufacture of wind turbines, the business opportunity presented by the need to provide maintenance and upkeep for the blades became obvious. To take advantage of the emerging market, however, the company had to grow and acquire the latest technology in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Suspendem then contacted the regional office of Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions in Gaspé, seeking financial assistance for the acquisition of the first Kaufer platform to be used in Canada. Made in Germany, the Kaufer platform is specially designed for working on blades that measure 40 metres or more. It would provide Suspendem the unique expertise with which it could meet the specific requirements of major suppliers operating in the wind energy sector.
Suspendem now owns five maintenance platforms, and is assessing the possibility of acquiring a sixth.
Let’s talk business
Suspendem now employs some 40 people, half in Gaspé and the rest in Quebec City, Montréal and British Columbia. Additional technicians come on board at peak periods.
About 80% of its operations take place in Quebec, with the remainder in eastern Canada – Ontario and the Maritimes – and in British Columbia. Suspendem wants to develop the South American market, which would increase its activities during the northern winter. The US market is also in its sights, but represents a longer-term prospect.
Suspendem was one of a delegation of four Quebec companies specializing in wind turbine operation and maintenance that attended an O&M and safety seminar organized by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and held in San Diego in February 2015. The event gave Suspendem an opportunity to improve its positioning in the North American market, with the ultimate goal of exporting its services and its expertise. Experts predict that by 2020, spending on wind turbine operation and maintenance in the United States will top $13 billion.
[Translation] “Conquering new markets presents a challenge, and regular attendance at events of this kind is most important. The real key to success in the medium and long term is to continue this kind of networking. We are working to offer our services to companies that own and run wind farms, and we have the feeling that we are getting to be better known and more credible as a contributor to their plans,” says William Talbot, Suspendem’s business development manager.
Suspendem has a multipurpose 360o Kaufer Blade Access Platform that enables a safe and stable work area to reach every part of a blade. It is one of the only companies in North America using this type of platform, which offers an ideal solution for the repair of wind turbine blades since it can accommodate three technicians and all their tools. The platform can also rise to the work site in a matter of minutes, further adding to its cost-effectiveness.
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