Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

CleanTechnica

Wind Energy

BladeBUG Inspects, Resurfaces, And Repairs Wind Turbine Blades Remotely

BladeBUG is a robot that can inspect and repair wind turbine blades faster and with less risk that using human inspectors, which could lower maintenance costs up to 50%.

Here’s a story about a tiny little bit of technology that could have a significant impact on renewable energy, particularly wind turbines. Efficiency is a big deal in the world of wind and solar energy. Dust, dirt, pollen and bird droppings can reduce the efficiency of solar panels, so people have invented ways to wash them in order to keep them producing electricity as efficiently as possible. Wind turbines have blades that can be hundreds of feet long and weigh thousands of pounds. Not only do they operate high up in the air, many are located miles offshore where accessing them is both difficult and hazardous.

BladeBUG robot

Credit: BladeBUG

Turbine blades need to be inspected regularly to spot potential structural weaknesses or damage that may affect their efficiency. Any surface defects can create unwanted turbulence which in turn lowers the amount of electricity produced for a given amount of wind.  Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. From his work as a turbine blade designer, Chris Cieslak came up with the idea of automating the inspection and maintenance process that is vital to keep wind turbines producing at peak efficiency.

“One of the main issues, especially offshore, is leading edge erosion,” Cieslak tells the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “The last 20 percent of the blade gets eroded by rain or grit and blasted to a rough surface. That can lead to a loss of aerodynamic performance and if left to get worse, premature structural failures.” Traditionally, the only way to inspect turbine blades was to conduct a visual inspection by people hanging from ropes attached to the top of a turbine pylon. Cieslak had a better idea, a six legged robot he calls BladeBUG which “walks” along a turbine blade from one end to the other, using suction cups to keep it from falling off.

The final product is much different from the original design, which was a wheel fitted with vacuum cups around its circumference that looked like a miniature Ferris Wheel. That design morphed into a tracked vehicle that used a vacuum to keep it from falling off. The six legged robot was designed with the shape of a turbine blade in mind. The blades are round where they connect to the rotor and flatten out farther down the length of the blade. “We needed something with dexterity. A multi-legged robot solved the problem of navigating over a changing surface,” Cieslak says.

BladeBUG passed its first big test recently, walking up and down a 50 meter long turbine blade on a 7 MW demonstration turbine operated by Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, a UK group that works with private developers and industry to test innovative technologies and help bring them to market. The robot is operated remotely by a technician as it conducts visual inspections and nondestructive testing. It is also capable of making some repairs during its journey. “The BladeBUG concept recognizes that there is a safer, more cost effective and efficient way of working,” says Chris Hill, operational performance director at ORE Catapult.

ORE Catapult says BladeBUG may be able to lower maintenance and repair cost by between 30 and 50 percent because it can operate in weather conditions that are impossible for the people who have to rappel down the blades to carry out inspections. “Techs spend half their time unable to perform their job,” Cieslak notes. “The robot is designed to be really user friendly, so you can use regular technicians who might need to be upskilled to perform the tasks that now need a specialist crew.”

The next step for the BladeBUG is to repeat the inspection walk on lightening protection gear, followed by further trials with wind turbine operators interested in seeing how the robot performs on their own turbines. Commercial viability is expected by the end of 2021. “We see the future as being a lot more automated, especially offshore. Having this vision of autonomous vessels and drones is how we see improvements coming,” Cieslak says.

Financial support for BladeBUG is part of MIMREE, the Multi-Platform Inspection, Maintenance, And Repair In Extreme Environments initiative that is part of Innovate UK. It is bringing together experts in robotics, nondestructive testing, artificial intelligence, space mission planning, marine and aerial engineering, and nanobiotechnology to show how offshore wind and maintenance work can be conducted using autonomous vessels, aerial vehicles, and crawler robots.

To see the BladeBUG in action, check out the video below.

 
 
 
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and cleantech news coverage? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
 

Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
 

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Advertisement
 
Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

Comments

You May Also Like

Clean Power

New green ammonia project aims to connect green hydrogen dots.

Clean Power

Louisiana will get a chance to flex its offshore wind muscles, through a new green hydrogen hub funded by the Build Back Better Regional...

Clean Transport

Eventually, a total of 400 electric cars could charge at the new Energy Superhub Oxford at one time. At launch, there are currently spaces...

Clean Power

Floating offshore wind offers new opportunities and alternatives to deployment of turbines in larger and deeper offshore areas.

Copyright © 2022 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.