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Wind Turbine Repair Robot

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WindTRRo (Wind Turbine Repair Robot)

Reporting period: 2019-02-01 to 2020-01-31

Challenge
The wind power market is experiencing high growth rates due to the need for clean, reliable and affordable power. The regulatory framework and policy structure supporting wind power in various regions and countries has led to significant developments for the industry and has seen the leading wind power nations adopt growth trajectories. The world’s wind power capacity grew by almost a fifth in 2019 after a year of record growth for offshore windfarms and a boom in onshore projects in the US and China.

One of the challenges in the industry is that the leading edge on turbine blades erodes when the blade tip is hit by rain and other particles in the air. Eroded edges result in less energy generated and can weaken the basic blade structure in the long run. For this reason, there is a high demand for leading edge repair services. Today, rope technicians carry out these repairs hanging from ropes from the nacelle of the wind turbine, a dangerous and expensive task.

Therefore, in order to support and secure the continuous growth of using wind turbines as energy generators a decrease in repairing cost is needed as well as a more efficient and safe way to maintain the turbine blades. Rope Robotics has developed this solution – a robot that can conduct repairs of the wind turbine blade up in the air. Using the robot will replace the previously described hazardous, manual task and minimize the cost of wind turbine blade repair overall.

The invention
Repairing a turbine blade is all about not compromising the aerodynamics. The robot therefore makes a 3D model of the blade based on laser scanning and pictures taken by the attached camera. The 3D model of the blade is used to document the extent of the damage and to define the repair process required. A software ensures the correct planning and execution of the repair at an optimized speed. The speed, pressure and geometry are key for ensuring a successful result. The robot undertakes all the repair processes needed, such as cleaning, sanding, adding filler and smoothing it out and finally it applies a two-component coating, which is the final step to rebuild the original shape of the blade. The robot pilot operates the robot from the ground and ensures the processes are done correctly and with a high-quality standard complying with the customer’s specification.


Project objectives
The overall objective of the project 848747 WinTRRo is to demonstrate and document to the blade maintenance market that the robot meets the demand for safer and more efficient repairing processes and thus aims to become the new industry standard for wind turbine blade repair. This is done via field tests at potential customers wind farms. Results and expertise from these field tests will provide the base for further development of the robot and shall give Rope Robotics the knowledge and know-how needed to define the final business model and go-to-market strategy.
During the last 12 months we have built and initiated upgrade of a series of five robots basing our work on the needed upgrades highlighted by earlier testing, such as more lights on the cabinet, a better cooling system inside the cabinet to avoid over heating of the electronic components, and several improvements to minimize the risk of dust from the sanding process on the tools and inside the cabinet.

We facilitated the first field test and made all contractual arrangements, defined the safety, operation and logistic set-up. It all worked very well, but the repair process was performed too slowly by the robot and quality standards were not as high as expected. The quality issue was caused by the squeegee tool leaving edges between the filler and the blade too high, which required repetitive and time-consuming movements. The robot therefore undertook several irrelevant movements during the repairing processes and the software happened to be too unstable.

These challenges triggered a delay of the project but well-defined mitigating actions were implemented such as pausing the field test and going back to our workshop, implementation of systemized test sprints seven days a week, and optimizing the robot operation with well-defined data logging through which we could analyze all data systematically and find the reasons for the slow process time.

Based on the findings from the above-mentioned measures we removed irrelevant movements, redesigned our tool change system, stabilized the software and redesigned the squeegee tool. The systemized test also allowed for intensified training of the robot pilots, which had a very positive impact on the operation. It all led to a factor 10 improvement of the process time, which allowed us to go back to the field for new testing. Results were extremely satisfying meaning that we are very close to be back on track compared to the original project plan.
Rope Robotics expects that the repair done by the robot will set a new standard for blade repair maintenance service. The robot solution will thus be at the forefront of the robot revolution by demonstrating how quality improvements in blade repair can be achieved while unlocking more than €300 million cost savings. The existing method of manual repair has in some cases shown to be up to 5 times more expensive than Rope Robotics solution. It will thus go beyond the state of the art for blade repair services and set new standards in the industry.

Cost savings for repair services will be one of the major industry impacts of this project providing the wind power industry with an important tool to become financially viable as compared to other energy sources. Another important impact of this project is the minimized level of dangerous work performed in heights when repaired the blades using manual work. Replacing manual labour with the robots will set new standards for health and safety pertaining to maintenance personnel.

Another important social impact of this project is that it will support the European goal of becoming less dependent on fossil fuels as Robe Robotics invention will be able to reduce the total costs of wind power operations thus making the sector more competitive.

By the end of this project Robe Robotics expects to have proven the viability of using its robots for leading edge blade repair through well documented field test with key customers within the wind turbine industry. Furthermore, an updated business model and go-to-market strategy will be ready leading to a successful attraction of new investors and employees. So far Rope Robotics has succeeded in attracting one important investor and more than doubled the number of employees.
Robot operating in the field