Chch firm grabs $4.2m US contract

19:53, May 04 2010

Christchurch technology firm Turningpoint is cashing in on a wind turbine boom, securing a $4.2 million contract to outfit 450 turbines in New Mexico.

Turningpoint makes maintenance monitoring devices, which read vibrations in wind turbines to detect when their parts should be replaced. The devices send an alarm when a component breaks down.

Yesterday, managing partner Mark Radburnd said less than 20 per cent of the world's wind farms had automated maintenance systems, relying instead on guessing or waiting for parts to break down.

"The turbines are becoming bigger which makes this [monitoring equipment] more and more essential," he said. "As the size gets bigger, the maintenance cost can rise astronomically."

Turningpoint secured the $4.2m contract with United States wind generator Edison Mission late last year and 120 condition-monitored turbines have been erected at the San Juan Mesa wind farm in New Mexico.

Edison Mission plans to erect a further 350 turbines and Turningpoint will watch the condition of the turbines remotely from its Christchurch headquarters.

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Turningpoint has already supplied 700 maintenance systems to US turbine manufacturer Clipper Windpower and is currently conducting trials with Mitsubishi in Japan.

In New Zealand, Turningpoint's systems are installed in turbines at Meridian Energy's White Hill wind farm in Southland.

The Christchurch firm is not the only company providing the vibration technology and is competing with four other much larger global players, including General Electric.

"We survive by sheer tenacity. The technology is similar but I think our software is more user-friendly."

Radburnd said the company had been growing rapidly since it was set up in 2006, with most of profits ploughed back into research and development.

Turningpoint is a subsidiary of Commtest, set up to focus on selling the vibration monitoring technology to the windpower industry.

Commtest was founded in 1989 and continues to use the vibration technology to monitor the condition of machines used in wastewater treatment, oil refineries and pulp and paper mills. Commtest and Turningpoint have offices in the U S, China and the Middle East with 57 staff, half of whom are based in Christchurch. Commtest is owned by its chief executive, Jack Henderson's family trusts, Timaru investor Allan Hubbard and another firm owned by South Canterbury Finance.

BusinessDay.co.nz