ZF Wind Power Turns Out Gearboxes that Last with PTC Mathcad

Look at a wind turbine on the prairie, and it’s easy to see how the force of blowing air creates rotational movement that can then turn a generator. But here’s the hitch—windmills only move at about 15 rpm, while an off-the-shelf generator needs to spin at 1000+ rpm to output useful 60-cycle AC power.


The solution? Encased within the housing (or “nacelle”) of most wind turbines lies a sophisticated gearbox. In principle, the gearbox simply consists of big gears driving small gears to deliver faster rotational speeds to the generator.



In reality, there’s nothing simple about it. The gearbox takes on so much torque, vibration, and other environmental abuse that it tends to fail long before any other component of the system. Gearboxes, it turns out, require thoughtful and innovative engineering to ensure reliability, longevity, and overall efficiency.


PTC customer ZF Wind Power specializes in the design, manufacture, and distribution of these critical devices. Based in Antwerp, Belgium, the company boasts 100 years of developing and building transmissions for all kinds of industrial applications. And with its team of engineers, ZF Wind Power aims to provide some of the most compact and cost-effective solutions available to wind-powered energy producers.


One secret to the team’s success is PTC products, including PTC Mathcad, PTC Creo, and PTC Windchill. Engineers and scientists rely on PTC Mathcad to solve, analyze and share vital engineering calculations.


“Wzfwind2e use PTC Mathcad to help us in our gear development,” says Bert Beirinckx, Senior Technology Engineer. “We have a lot of complex calculations that we use repeatedly. PTC Mathcad supports getting these calculations solved.


Just a few PTC Mathcad power users program those standards and calculations. About 90% of the team simply leverages the resulting “worksheets,” so that they can focus on their design problems instead of solving problems that have already been worked out.


Of course, no respectable engineer simply plugs numbers into a formula without understanding the underlying formula. That’s one reason Beirinckx says PTC Mathcad works so well for his team.


The two most important features of PTC Mathcad, in his opinion, are the real math notation and unit handling.


Real Math notation

Unlike Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or Visual Basic script, PTC Mathcad displays equations with a textbook-like presentation. So, if an engineer suspects a formula contains flaws, he or she can quickly assess the problem.


“It’s very easy for people to read PTC Mathcad sheets compared to other popular forms of creating calculations,” Beirinckx says. “In Visual Basic, for instance, I can’t see right away how a formula is laid out. I spend half an hour counting the commas, counting the brackets. ‘Okay, one is closed, that’s three, that’s two, one open again –it’s a really a tedious process!’”


Best of all, if anybody in the organization spots a problem with a standard formula, PTC Mathcad sheets make it easy to fix and distribute to the rest of the team.


Unit awareness

PTC Mathcad includes the unique ability to understand units as well, even allowing you to mix systems (like English and SI) in a single equation, and still produce the correct results. Beirinckx says that unit awareness also helps him check the validity of his formulations. “If the units don’t add up or if the unit is something you don’t expect, you know there is something wrong.”


The unit awareness is unmatched by any other application, says Beirinckx. And between that feature and math notation, he’s sold on PTC Mathcad. “Those are the big game changers in PTC Mathcad. It’s one of a kind.”


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