The wind power industry’s dirty little secret is the accident rate of inspection and maintenance crews having to climb up turbines, 50 metres or more.
With preventative inspection required every three or four months and maintenance twice a year, there were 2,265 accidents to June 2018, with 135 fatalities, Forth Engineering says.
Then there is the cost: anything from £70,000 to £700,000 a time.
A potential solution is now in the works at Forth Engineering in Cumbria, which is developing a lightweight robot called RADBLAD to do X-ray maintenance surveys of wind turbines, both onshore and offshore.
Forth is more than halfway through a two-year project, funded by Innovate UK, to develop the technology, which will complete a full X-ray survey of a Vesta 47 size turbine and all its blades in just five hours, the company says.
The manufacture of the technology is on course to be completed by the middle of July and ready for testing on onshore wind turbines in September at Catapult Offshore Renewable Energy’s testing centre at Blyth in Northumberland, ready to deliver the solution for March 2021.
Peter Routledge, Forth’s programme manager, said: “RADBLAD is a world-first magnetically-adhering, wall-climbing robot, with a manipulator arm which deploys an x-ray system around a blade. An end effector holds the source and detector against the blade, so they move with the blade in the presence of 3-D blade vibrations.
“A crucial and novel extension of RADBLAD lies in the use of a radiographic system for inspection and in providing an integrated solution that offers high-quality, efficient inspection method, which is human-safe.
“Unlike radiography, RADBLAD does not require costly, time-consuming onshore dismantling of blades and transportation to workshop, inspection in X-ray bays and return and reassembly, which can take around 10 days, during which time revenue is lost due to generating downtime.”
Forth also makes remote-control pipeline inspection systems. For the RADBLAD project it is working in a consortium with Innvotek, TWI, Catapult, Renewable Advice and London South Bank University.
There are about 350,000 wind turbines in the world. In the UK there are 8,600 onshore wind turbines and 2,190 offshore.
Mark Telford, managing director of Forth, said: “This will be another world-first for Forth and another example of where an industry has a specific challenge and has asked us to come up with a solution. This is the way we like to work and if other industries are facing similar challenges we are always happy to talk to them.”