Clean Power The Helical Robotics HR-MP20

Published on April 3rd, 2013 | by Joshua S Hill


Robotics To Help Maintain Offshore And Onshore Wind Turbines

April 3rd, 2013 by  

The maintenance and inspection of wind turbines was never a topic I thought I would end up covering. It is definitely not the sexiest of news items ever to appear on CleanTechnica (though I defy you to find something unsexier than some of the regulatory pieces we’ve covered over the past few months).

But, as with any new field of industry — and especially with new fields of energy generation — inspection and maintenance are going to be key factors in furthering development. Without efficient machinery, all the green technology in the world won’t make up for the losses in renewable generation.

Enter Helical Robotics, a robotics solutions company which is aiming to ‘change the face of industry by mitigating risk and increasing profitability through the use of robotic solutions. Specifically, they have designed the HR-MP robotic platforms which promises to improve safety and reduce liability and personnel costs (which, sadly, is a way to say fewer human-filled jobs).

The Helical Robotics HR-MP20

The Helical Robotics HR-MP20
Image Credit: Helical Robotics

The HR-MP20 is a light weight magnetic climbing robot which can be deployed in less than a minute, weighs less than 40 pounds but has a lifting capacity of 20 pounds. Its compact and versatile design allows it to be useful on a multitude of wind turbines.

“Every day, technology advances and changes the face of industry,” says Bruce Schlee, President of Helical Robotics. “These advancements drive the future of our world from better renewable energy to safer bridges and ships. Helical Robotics hopes to be part of this continuing evolution.”

Schlee continued, “Technology advances such as this will be the primary factor that determines the success of Wind Power and other renewable energies. By reducing the cost of operations and maintenance, Helical Robotics mobile platforms will make wind energy more efficient and cost competitive.”

Big claims, especially in a world recently recovering from a financial slump, with unemployment levels at all-time highs across the planet. One wonders at the general perception Helical Robotics will encounter as they try to replace the workforce with robots (a long-term trend, let’s be fair, but one that dismisses one of the biggest selling points of the renewable industries’ benefits).

Helical Robotics include this specific example of the way a HR-MP20 will be able to replace regular manpower:

Wind blade inspection for example, is accomplished by an inspector who examines the massive turbine blades from the ground, about 100 meters (328′) away, by using a high-power telescope, or by rope access technicians using equipment similar to that of a mountain climber. Helical Robotics plans to change that by using remote-controlled, robotic devices that can scale the wind tower.

Image Credit: Helical Robotics

Image Credit: Helical Robotics

Beneficial for the companies involved, but when you start to erase the technical skills requires and minimise the number of full-time positions available at any renewables site upon construction, local communities will not necessarily be as willing to back a project which doesn’t help their unemployed.

Without a doubt, implementing robotics technology such as the HR-MP20 will be incredibly beneficial in some areas. It will minimise the risk to humans required to inspect onshore and offshore wind turbines, and reduce the costs associated with hiring a full inspection and maintenance team. The HR-MP20 was recently tested at a wind farm in Minnesota, where it demonstrated its greater resilience to wind and weather.

The future of the renewable energies industry will be an interesting one to watch over the next decade, as innovations such as robotics begin to play their role — just as they have in every other technological industry since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

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  • Otis11

    But, fewer “human-filled jobs” through reduced personel costs means cheaper renewable energy! (and, many of these jobs, while relatively safe, are some of the riskiest jobs in developed countries)

    “unemployment levels at all time lows” I think you got this backwards, unemployment levels at all time highs or employment levels at all time lows…

    And jobs is far from the biggest selling point of renewables… even if it is significant. Plus, renewables actually have an avalanche effect as they keep more money in the country which gets spent repeatedly here instead of overseas… which supports more local jobs and an improved quality of life. So not a significant issue IMO.

    Also, replacing specialized, reliability and inspection work will result in an overall higher quality product/better maintenance (Not because the worker did not do their job properly, just because of limitations inherent from inspecting the structure at a distance, even if using high powered equipment.)

  • Scotland

    Echoing the other commenters, this is a very positive new item.

    From what I have seen, offshore wind, though more or a steady resource than land based wind, comes at a significant different in cost in regards to maintenance. Any and all productivity improvements for maintenance hasten the coming of the day when we’ll no longer rely on fossil fuels for energy.

    Besides, though the number of cleantech jobs may be reduced through productivity increases (versus the baseline), all the wind power maintenance jobs are still locally based (in the country where the turbines are sited). Eventually we will probably see extended power grids that export vast amounts of electricity (Canada has done this for years – sending surplus electricity from hydropower to the NE US) but that day is far off for renewables and any currency transfers from renewables are dwarfed by the currency flows we currently see between countries (net exporters and importers) for crude oil, for example.

  • arne-nl

    Creating jobs is often used as an argument for renewables. Otoh, we want renewables to become cheaper. These goals are incompatible.

    Solar panels and wind turbines are mostly built out of cheap and abundant materials. Directly or indirectly most of the cost is labor. So if we want cheaper renewables, we’ll have to shed a few jobs here and there.

  • James Wimberley

    You underplay the worker safety issue here. Inspecting turbine blades with mountaineering gear in high winds is as dangerous as being a topman sailor in Nelson’s navy.
    Job creation has always been a poor argument for renewables. The jobs must shift from fossil to renewable sectors; but all power generation industries are inherently capital-intensive in the steady state. Solar installation creates lots of jobs while it’s ramping up, but not afterward. In Germany solar employment must b declining.

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