ZF Windpower

ZF Windpower Brings Jobs, Economy Boost to Hall County

ZF Wind's new facility

“The decision boiled down to service and power delivery strategy. Jackson EMC offered personal, customer service and an intricate plan detailing how they will ensure power reliability.”

It will take an18-wheel truck to carry just one 16-ton gearbox from the newly constructed ZF Windpower plant located in Gainesville, Ga. The gearbox will travel to a wind power plant in Colorado, where it will be inserted in a two-megawatt wind turbine. Approximately 220 employees are needed to operate the state-of-the-art facility.

“The clean energy market is still fairly new in the U.S., so we were strategic about our sizing and equipment. We’re able to grow as the market increases. ZF Windpower sits on 52-acres of land, and we can double our building’s size, if needed.,” says Ryan Owen, ZF Windpower production manager. The company currently provides gearboxes to Vestas, the global leader in the wind turbine industry.

Production begins in late 2011, and represents a $95 million investment in the community. While this investment is significant, ZF Windpower is no stranger to the Gainesville community. More than 300 people are employed at their ZF Industries facility, which opened in 1987. ZF is one of the world’s largest suppliers to the global auto industry, producing transmissions for cars, trains, airplanes and ships. The company also makes automotive steering and axle systems for chassis components, industrial drives and transmissions for heavy machinery. With technology and precision among the fundamental operations for the company, the expansion into manufacturing wind turbine gearboxes was natural.

“Precision is key to production and it’s why our product’s life expectancy is double that of our competitors,” states Owen. A wind turbine’s life expectancy is 20 years, and each turbine will normally go through approximately three gearboxes during that lifetime. However, ZF designed their gearboxes to last 20 years. “Replacing gearboxes is expensive. Changing out equipment that weighs several tons requires special tools, preparation and long periods of downtime. Preventing wind turbine failures with a
better product is what ZF can provide our customers.” Key to the company’s success is a quality workforce, which is one of the reasons the company chose Georgia out of three possible locations for its wind power facility. “Local and state officials do a great job making Georgia an attractive and easy place to do business. We’re able to select from an employee pool trained at Lanier Tech, just a few minutes away from our facility.”

Another energy provider serves ZF Industries, and when the time came to select an energy provider for their new facility, ZF Windpower had a checklist.

  • How they would be served
  • Service strategy and processes
  • Power reliability
  • Redundancy
  • Service crews close by
  • Pricing

ZF Windpower is located between two substations, one built specifically to serve the critical load. “Some of our production processes have only a window of a few
seconds to be without power before we have to discard a batch and begin again. One process alone costs thousands of dollars, so we need to keep our power flowing.”

Keeping the power flowing is just one aspect of the job for David Lee, Jackson EMC’s Commercial/Industrial Marketing representative. “We developed an innovative power delivery plan to ensure that ZF Windpower’s operations weren’t threatened by loss of power. From working with our engineers in the redundancy plan to building a substation to serve their facility, we made sure ZF Windpower knew we were not just their power providers, we’re their business partners,” says Lee.