Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Hiroyuki Sugiyama

Second Advisor

Kyung K. Choi

First Committee Member

Patrick B Butler

Second Committee Member

Pablo M Carrica

Third Committee Member

Jia Lu

Fourth Committee Member

Shaoping Xiao


The objective of this study is to develop an integrated multibody dynamics computational framework for the deterministic and reliability-based design optimization of wind turbine drivetrains to obtain an optimal wind turbine gear design that ensures a target reliability under wind load and gear manufacturing uncertainties. Gears in wind turbine drivetrains are subjected to severe cyclic loading due to variable wind loads that are stochastic in nature. Thus, the failure rate of drivetrain systems is reported to be relatively higher than the other wind turbine components. It is known in wind energy industry that improving reliability of drivetrain designs is one of the key issues to make wind energy competitive as compared to fossil fuels. Furthermore, a wind turbine is a multi-physics system involving random wind loads, rotor blade aerodynamics, gear dynamics, electromagnetic generator and control systems. This makes an accurate prediction of product life of drivetrains challenging and very limited studies have been carried out regarding design optimization including the reliability-based design optimization (RBDO) of geared systems considering wind load and manufacturing uncertainties.

In order to address these essential and challenging issues on design optimization of wind turbine drivetrains under wind load and gear manufacturing uncertainties, the following issues are discussed in this study: (1) development of an efficient numerical procedure for gear dynamics simulation of complex multibody geared systems based on the multi-variable tabular contact search algorithm to account for detailed gear tooth contact geometry with profile modifications or surface imperfections; (2) development of an integrated multibody dynamics computational framework for deterministic and reliability-based design optimization of wind turbine drivetrains using the gear dynamics simulation software developed in (1) and RAMDO software by incorporating wide spatiotemporal wind load uncertainty model, pitting gear tooth contact fatigue model, and rotor blade aerodynamics model using NREL AeroDyn/FAST; and (3) deterministic and reliability-based design optimization of wind turbine drivetrain to minimize total weight of a drivetrain system while ensuring 20-year reliable service life with wind load and gear manufacturing uncertainties using the numerical procedure developed in this study.

To account for the wind load uncertainty, the joint probability density function (PDF) of 10-minute mean wind speed (V₁₀) and 10-minute turbulence intensity (I₁₀) is introduced for wind turbine drivetrain dynamics simulation. To consider wide spatiotemporal wind uncertainty (i.e., wind load uncertainty for different locations and in different years), uncertainties of all the joint PDF parameters of V₁₀, I₁₀ and copula are considered, and PDF for each parameter is identified using 249 sets of wind data. This wind uncertainty model allows for the consideration of a wide range of probabilistic wind loads in the contact fatigue life prediction. For a given V₁₀ and I₁₀ obtained from the stochastic wind model, the random time-domain wind speed data is generated using NREL TurbSim, and then inputted into NREL FAST to perform the aerodynamic simulation of rotor blades to predict the transmitted torque and speed of the main shaft of the drivetrain that are sent to the multibody gear dynamics simulation as an input.

In order to predict gear contact fatigue life, a high-fidelity gear dynamics simulation model that considers the detailed gear contact geometry as well as the mesh stiffness variation needs to be developed to find the variability of maximum contact stresses under wind load uncertainty. This, however, leads to a computationally intensive procedure. To eliminate the computationally intensive iterative online collision detection algorithm, a numerical procedure for the multibody gear dynamics simulation based on the tabular contact search algorithm is proposed. Look-up contact tables are generated for a pair of gear tooth profiles by the contact geometry analysis prior to the dynamics simulation and the contact points that fulfill the non-conformal contact condition and mesh stiffness at each contact point are calculated for all pairs of gears in the drivetrain model.

This procedure allows for the detection of gear tooth contact in an efficient manner while retaining the precise contact geometry and mesh stiffness variation in the evaluation of mesh forces, thereby leading to a computationally efficient gear dynamics simulation suited for the design optimization procedure considering wind load uncertainty. Furthermore, the accuracy of mesh stiffness model introduced in this study and transmission error of gear tooth with tip relief are discussed, and a wind turbine drivetrain model developed using this approach is validated against test data provided in the literature.

The gear contact fatigue life is predicted based on the gear tooth pitting fatigue criteria and is defined by the sum of the number of stress cycles required for the fatigue crack initiation and the number required for the crack to propagate from the initial to the critical crack length based on Paris-Erdogan equation for Mode II fracture. All the above procedures are integrated into the reliability-based design optimization software RAMDO for design optimization and reliability analysis of wind turbine drivetrains under wind load and manufacturing uncertainties.

A 750kW GRC wind turbine gearbox model is used to perform the design optimization and the reliability analysis. A deterministic design optimization (DDO) is performed first using an averaged joint PDF of wind load to ensure a 20-year service life. To this end, gear face width and tip relief (profile modification) are selected as design variables and optimized such that 20-year fatigue life is ensured while minimizing the total weight of drivetrains. It is important to notice here that an increase in face width leads to a decrease in the fatigue damage, but an increase in total weight. On the other hand, the tip relief has almost no effect on the total weight, but it has a major impact on the fatigue damage. It is shown in this study that the optimum tip relief allows for lowering the greatest maximum shear stresses on the tooth surface without relying heavily on face width widening to meet the 20-year fatigue life constraint and it leads to reduction of total drivetrain weight by 8.4%. However, if only face width is considered as design variable, total weight needs to be increased by 4.7% to meet the 20-year fatigue life constraint.

Furthermore, the reliability analysis at the DDO optimum design is carried out considering the large spatiotemporal wind load uncertainty and gear manufacturing uncertainty. Local surrogate models at DDO optimum design are generated using Dynamic Kriging method in RAMDO software to evaluate the gear contact fatigue damage. 49.5% reliability is obtained at the DDO optimum design, indicating that the probability of failure is 50.5%, which is as expected for the DDO design. RBDO is, therefore, necessary to further improve the reliability of the wind turbine drivetrain.

To this end, the sampling-based reliability analysis is carried out to evaluate the probability of failure for each design using the Monte Carlo Simulation (MCS) method. However, the use of a large number of MCS sample points leads to a large number of contact fatigue damage evaluation time using the 10-minute multibody drivetrain dynamics simulation, resulting in the RBDO calculation process being computational very intensive. In order to overcome the computational difficulty resulting from the use of high-fidelity wind turbine drivetrain dynamics simulation, intermediate surrogate models are created prior to the RBDO process using the Dynamic Kriging method in RAMDO and used throughout the entire RBDO iteration process. It is demonstrated that the RBDO optimum obtained ensures the target 97.725 % reliability (two sigma quality level) with only 1.4 % increase in the total weight from the baseline design with 8.3 % reliability. This result clearly indicates the importance of incorporating the tip relief as a design variable that prevents larger increase in the face width causing an increase in weight. This, however, does not mean that a larger tip relief is always preferred since an optimum tip relief amount depends on stochastic wind loads and an optimum tip relief cannot be found deterministically. Furthermore, accuracy of the RBDO optimum obtained using the intermediate surrogate models is verified by the reliability analysis at the RBDO optimum using the local surrogate models. It is demonstrated that the integrated design optimization procedure developed in this study enables the cost effective and reliable design of wind turbine drivetrains.


Contact fatigue, Gear train, Multi-body dynamics, Reliability-based design optimization, Wind turbine, Wind uncertainty


xxi, 124 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 117-124).


Copyright © 2016 Huaxia Li