Inspecting wind turbines for defects, breakdown and wear and tear is a tough job. Not only is the job dangerous for wind turbine repair technicians it can also take a lot of time. The blades on a turbine have to be braked so they’re not spinning and then have pictures taken of them through a telescope that is focusing on the blades from about 100 meters away. According to GE Reports this process can take nearly four hours for a typical wind turbine inspection.
GE Engineers partnered with a company in Ithaca, New York called International Climbing Machines. They call themselves ICM for short and they describe their services as, “ICM has developed a technology to radically alter how elevated height work is performed. Our portable, remote-controlled devices can scale virtually any vertical or inverted surface, and, because they are operated safely from the ground, humans are not exposed to dangerous heights or to dangerous chemical or toxin environs. Our machines can climb walls, tanks, ships, building structures, dams, towers, etc.” GE had an interest in ICM’s robot because it actually can inspect things using a vacuum that allows it to climb vertically up wind turbine towers.
The ICM robot can scale the wind turbine in just minutes and get high definition images of what it’s looking at and wirelessly transmit those pictures to Engineer teams at GE to decide if the wind turbine blades need repair. The little robot doing all of this work isn’t light because it has a lot of components to make it functional, weighing in around 30 pounds. While the inspection robot’s own weight is impressive, ICM has these little guys rated to pull up to nearly 225 pounds up a vertical climb.
So you have to wonder, does this little robot really work? What if it’s stormy outside and the wind is blowing like crazy and the wind turbine pole is super wet. Will it fall down and turn into a robot pile of mush? It sounds like it works just fine whether it’s wet and rainy or not. The Manager from the GRC evaluation lab named Waseem Faidi at GE said, “We sprayed water on the pole to simulate rain and the device held on.” The test was done at a wind farm in Texas and seems like it’s a success. In the video below the future of this robotic inspection is also discussed with adding on additions like microwave scanners to peer inside turbine blades. About the new microwave inspection Faidi said, “We could see smaller defects a lot earlier inside the blade, before they break to the surface and cause problems.”
GE Global Research & International Climbing Machines on building a robotic crawler for inspecting turbine blades
GE Global Research and International Climbing Machines build a robotic crawler that can inspect wind turbines and climb vertical turbine poles as high as 300 feet.
Interview with Waseem Faidi – Manager at GRC Non-Destructive Evaluation Lab
We had an effort actually with some engineers here to working with a robotic company to build a robotic crawler with a camera that goes up the tower and can look at the blades from a lot closer distance. Instead of a telescope that looks at the blades from a 100 meters we can look at it from 10 meters. This allows us a to see a lot more detail and a lot more focus.
What we’re thinking about now as the next step is that we need to go inside of the blades. So what we are looking at is NDE that we can take and put it on the crawler to see inside the blade. We have an effort that we started a couple years ago to use microwave. We take that and increase the frequency to increase the range and we’re working on increasing it’s speed so we can put it on the crawler, it will scan up and down the tower looking at the turbine blades. It’s not only going to see the outside of the turbine blade but also inside so it could see the fiber composite structures as well as the problems, defects & wrinkles.