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Wind Turbine Repair Robot

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WindTRRo (Wind Turbine Repair Robot)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2020-10-31

Challenge
The wind power market is experiencing high growth rates due to the need for clean, reliable and affordable power. 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 maintaining 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.
Rope Robotics are proud to say that the period from February to October has been characterized with the completion of many tasks. After the first 12 months of the project there were quite a few extra open tasks because they had experienced some issues related to quality and process speed during their first field test which took place in Germany. The test was paused, they went back to their test facilities and with well implemented mitigating actions, the challenges where solved.

Rope Robotics went back to the field. It was Winter in Europe and therefore not possible to work on blades, but together with a customer a new test in South Africa was set-up. This time Rope Robotics achieved the expected test results in the field. The process time was improved with a factor 10 and the quality according to the industry standard. The complete operational set-up worked-well and they could finetune and finalize the data integration. Data integration is the way the system combines the robot position on the blade and the validation pictures taken by the robot both before and after a repair. This is used as documentation to the customer. The safety and training procedures were also validated during the test.

The first field test was completed and based on lesson learned, 6 robots were refurbished to the newest version and afterwards the second field test was completed. The second test took place in wind farms both in Denmark and Sweden, on commercial terms and with a complete repair solution in place. Rope Robotics had added an extra level of automation and even improved the user friendliness of controlling the robot. It all worked well. All support technologies and support equipment were integrated and fully operational.

Covid-19 have also been a challenge for rope Robotics. For example, it was not possible to do field work from late March to late June and limited on-site demonstrations due to travel restrictions.
Nevertheless, Rope Robotics managed to kickstart the promotion of their repair solution, among others with invaluable support from well documenting field test videos. You find the videos here:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4ecQJ9kBMOZe4fj6wg7Zjw

During the last half year, Rope Robotics have been in dialog with many interested customers which have let to serious business negotiations. They have got important knowledge about the different customers and the markets. Knowledge to be used to finetune their business model and go to market strategy. Agreement with key partners have been signed to make the business acceleration possible.

Parallel to above, Rope Robotics has worked on an extended upgrade. An upgrade with a new movement system, a new validated leading-edge material, and a new application tool. All done to ensure an even quicker process time. They cannot reveal details yet, but they have reached extraordinary results in their test facilities.
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 in operation during validation programm
Robot in operation during validation programm