Monitoring of Wind Turbine Gearbox Condition through Oil and Wear Debris Analysis: A Full-Scale Testing Perspective

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Despite the wind industry's dramatic development during the past decade, it is still challenged by premature turbine subsystem/component failures, especially for turbines rated above 1 MW. Because a crane is needed for each replacement, gearboxes have been a focal point for improvement in reliability and availability. Condition monitoring (CM) is a technique that can help improve these factors, leading to reduced turbine operation and maintenance costs and, subsequently, lower cost of energy for wind power. Although technical benefits of CM for the wind industry are normally recognized, there is a lack of published information on the advantages and limitations of each CM technique confirmed by objective data from full-scale tests. This article presents first-hand oil and wear debris analysis results obtained through tests that were based on full-scale wind turbine gearboxes rated at 750 kW. The tests were conducted at the 2.5-MW dynamometer test facility at the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The gearboxes were tested in three conditions: run-in, healthy, and damaged. The investigated CM techniques include real-time oil condition and wear debris monitoring, both inline and online sensors, and offline oil sample and wear debris analysis, both onsite and offsite laboratories. The reported results and observations help increase wind industry awareness of the benefits and limitations of oil and debris analysis technologies and highlight the challenges in these technologies and other tribological fields for the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers and other organizations to help address, leading to extended gearbox service life.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)56-79
Number of pages24
JournalTribology and Lubrication Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-67454


  • Oil condition monitoring
  • Oil debris monitoring
  • Oil sample analysis
  • Wear debris analysis
  • Wind turbine gearbox


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