Interview with Michael Forbes, Renewable Parts Ltd

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Before I begin this interview, I’d like to say a big thanks to Hannah Ellis, Marketing Manager at Scotland-based Renewable Parts Ltd. Hannah spotted my offer to interview interesting circular economy projects and has been a wonderful liaison throughout this piece.

This company is like no other that I’ve ever seen, and I described it in my chats with Hannah as ‘double-circular’. The primary business activity for Renewable Parts Ltd is to provide consumables to wind farms, in the form of gearboxes, motors, valves and so much more. This is vital for the continual production and minimal downtime of wind farms.

The reason I say double-circular, however, is that they also have a refurbishment workshop that takes broken, worn or ‘previously unserviceable’ parts from wind turbines, gives them a new lease of life and reintroduces them to the supply chain. This is renewing renewable energy. I love it, and I’m really excited to hear what Michael Forbes, Manager of Refurbishment Engineering, has to say…

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Welcome Michael, thanks for giving up your time to answer a few of my questions. Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into the renewables industry – has it always been an interest of yours?

My further education started with an HND in Mechanical Engineering at Stow College, Glasgow, and this was followed by a bachelor’s degree in Manufacturing Engineering and Management from the University of Strathclyde. Prior to working with Renewable Parts, however, I was self-employed for 12 years, running a boat maintenance and management business. My switch to the wind industry just came by chance in 2017, and this gave me the opportunity to put into practice much of what I had studied sometime before.

 

The new refurbishment centre sounds like a real whirlwind of a project. How did it come about? Who helped support it? What’s the scalability?

Refurbishment has always been a core focus for Renewable Parts, in fact, the company was originally called Recycled Renewables. After establishing a successful business supplying new and used parts, the decision was made to address the growing problem of waste, increasing costs and obsolescence of components within the sector.

Ewan Anderson, the founder of Renewable Parts, has been a major driving force behind the Centre. Ewan originally identified the gap in the industry, and with a background in engineering, it’s his passion and technical knowledge of the industry that has driven us in this direction.

The entire Renewable Parts team’s forward-thinking approach has been made possible by the dynamic, driven environment created within the business, empowering employees and allowing them to make changes for the good of the business, the staff and the environment.

However, there are several people whom, without their support, we probably wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today. Angus MacDonald, who is a shareholder of the business with tremendous drive. HiE, who have supported us in a number of ways, both financially and by opening doors to MIT in Boston and other excellent networking routes, and Strathclyde University who have engaged with the company and been very proactive in developing projects.

The Refurbishment Centre is quickly growing and refurbished parts are representing an increasing proportion of the business’ revenue. The Refurbishment Centre currently employs 3 staff, but this number will double within the next year. These are skilled jobs with great career progression within an innovative and dynamic business.

Everything we are working on at the refurbishment centre is with one eye on expansion to deal with rapid growth over the next 2-3 years.

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RPL team with Sir Jim McDonald at the opening of the Refurbishment Centre

Wind energy is a green industry, but like all industries, it creates waste. Why was it so important to Renewable Parts Ltd to move into refurbishment alongside normal parts supply?

The wind industry is perceived to be a green industry, and at Renewable Parts, we believe we should be supporting this green energy source by developing a green supply chain.

Over their typical 25-year lifecycle, wind turbines generate high quantities of used material that is turned to scrap and often goes to landfill. The industry needs to stop overlooking this huge accumulation of waste and start utilising these unserviceable parts; 80% of a wind turbine is recyclable. The policy of “only fit new” can no longer be sustained, not just ethically, but also economically, as shrinking budgets and rising parts prices are affecting businesses across the industry. Renewable Parts aims to significantly reduce this level of waste, offering fully warranted refurbished parts to customers at up to 40% below the cost of new.

The benefits of remanufacturing parts are multifaceted. Turbine owners will be able to reduce costs, which in turn increases returns on investment, but taking this approach is also beneficial to the progression of the entire industry. Refurbishing parts creates skilled jobs in the industry, reduces landfill waste, reduces carbon footprints, and by developing a more circular economy, we’re making the wind industry greener!

 

I’m a big fan of circular economy ideals, is that one of the main motivations for this project?

Developing a more circular economy within the wind industry is one of the core focusses of the Refurbishment Centre.

The Centre is dedicated to developing processes that will extend current product life and ultimately cut waste. Investment is being made into increasing capability at the Centre which, in turn, will increase the range of refurbished products available, and therefore further reduce waste within the industry.

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A turbine part before and after being refurbished

It’s amazing to me that wind turbines are now ‘aging’ and starting to deteriorate, it seems like just five minutes ago I was a child fascinated by them from the back seat of my parent’s car. How have you personally seen this industry develop, and are brand new wind turbines being designed to last longer without requiring repair?

As far as industries go, the wind industry is fairly young and relatively immature, and we’ve seen major rapid advancements in technology in recent years. Developments are mainly aimed at improving efficiency and reducing cost; with turbines getting bigger, stronger and of course generating more electricity.

Wind turbines, however, are ultimately complex machines made up of as many as 8,000 different components, so regardless of the advancement, as with any machine comprised of moving parts, regular maintenance is a necessity and parts failure is almost always an inevitably.

At Renewable Parts, we primarily deal with older, out of warranty turbines, so increasingly we’re seeing the fallout from ageing turbines struggling with increased parts failure rates. There is also a growing trend for operators to install entire used, refurbished, turbines – which is another area of capability we offer our customers.

 

Hannah told me that the project has been shortlisted for some awards, can you tell me which ones, and can my readers vote to support you?

We’ve been absolutely astounded by the level of support we’ve received for the Refurbishment Centre already, and have been nominated for, and reached the finals of several awards for categories surrounding Innovation, Sustainable Development and Circular Economy.

We’re delighted to have won Best Circular Economy Initiative at the Scottish Resources Awards, and the Best Innovation in Business category at the Glasgow Business Awards, where Renewable Parts Ltd as a whole won the award for Most Outstanding Business!

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We still have two upcoming awards events left this year. We’ve reached the finals of the Circular Economy Category at the Vibes 2018 (Scottish Environment Business Awards) which will be held in November, then in December, we’re up for the Carbon Reduction award at the Scottish Green Energy Awards.

The nominations are now with the retrospective final judging panels, but readers can support us by following and sharing our journey on our website and social media pages; we’re active on LinkedIn & Twitter.

 

There must be limitations to what can and can’t be fixed? Are there things you’re not allowed to refurbish? Have you had any objections from your customers to receiving refurbished parts, or are they on board?

Ultimately, it’s up to the customers whether they choose to buy a new part or purchase a refurbished part, but the attitude towards offering refurbished parts has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve received a lot of support for the project. Not only can our customers see the benefits of buying a refurbished part with a full warranty at up to 40% below the cost of new, but they can see that this is a change our industry needs to embrace.

We are working hard to maintain a stock of refurbished parts on the shelf, especially for those parts which have long lead times, which in some cases can be several months, when bought new so this is another great selling point for the products.

 

Imagine I own a wind farm and my turbine breaks down, can you walk me through the scenario from start to finish?

The first point of contact would be the Renewable Parts office in Renfrew, where our sales team can help not only with parts availability and price but also with technical queries. If available, a refurbished option will be given. We are working to expand the range of refurbished products available and making sure that this process includes consultation with customers, who are helping us to identify components for which a refurbishment programme may be worthwhile.

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Michael, Ewan Anderson (Technical Director / RPL founder) & James Barry (CEO)

I imagine the biggest concern to customers is downtime, how do you minimize that downtime in order to get their turbines running again?

Minimising a customer’s downtime is a key focus for Renewable Parts, as downed turbines are incredibly costly for asset owners. In regard to the Refurbishment Centre, we hold a growing inventory of refurbished parts, which we sell to the customer, on the proviso that they send us the failed part that requires refurbishment. This approach ensures that customers can get their turbine back up and running as quickly as possible, and we maintain a feedstock for refurbishing.

Another service we offer our customers aimed at maximising turbine availability is Vision. Vision is the first of its kind in the Wind Industry, a consumables service solution providing a 12 month, fully customisable service charge covering all consumables needed for turbine servicing. Vision simplifies customer businesses by handling procurement, making consumable costs predictable and maximising turbine availability, improving operational performance.

 

I’ve read a little bit about an inventory management system that you have built, how would this help any prospective wind farm?

The development of Supply Chain Management Services (SCMS) has enabled Renewable Parts to manage the entire supply chain, logistics and warehousing function of a customer’s operation. Using sophisticated software and data management, Renewable Parts is able to remotely control and issue stock, manage re-order processes, assess operational risks, and proactively take steps to mitigate supply chain lead times with fluctuating site demands.  

SCMS has been successfully employed on several sites within the UK across Nordex, Siemens and Vestas turbines.  During the last three years, customer disruption has been dramatically reduced with parts shortages becoming a rarity.  

 

Tell me about the daily life of the refurbishment centre?

The key aim of the Refurbishment Centre is maintaining stock levels of refurbished parts at our Renfrew warehouse. Our in-house software will alert us to low levels of stock of any of the components.

The workshop is laid out in order for components coming in to be drained, washed, inspected, disassembled, repaired where needed, and then re-assembled. The other end of the workshop is where we carry out testing, certifying, spraying and packing for transport. We’ll generally refurbish parts in batches according to demand.

At the same time as this is going on, we have various research projects focussed on improving our testing processes. Not only does this provide data to back up our warranties, but it allows us to identify other components that we should be refurbishing.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I have to say that the forward-thinking, inclusive environment created by James Barry and Ewan Anderson within the business is allowing everyone to thrive. A workplace like this encourages innovation and embraces growth, and it’s because of this the Refurbishment Centre has grown so quickly and received so much recognition. 


Do you want to read more interviews?

Interview with Frederik van Deurs and Martin Andreas Petersen, GREENTECH CHALLENGE

Interview with Jo Gallacher, Editor of Recycling & Waste World

Interview with Yoshioka Tatsuya, founder of Peace Boat

Interview with Michael Groves, CEO and Founder of Topolytics

Interview with Wiebe Wakker, the first man to drive across the world in an electric vehicle

Interview with Jill Butler-Rennie, an off-shore environmental expert

 

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