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WInspector Report Summary

Project ID: 700986

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WInspector (Advanced shearography kit and a robotic deployment platform for on-site inspection of wind turbine blades)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

To achieve a thorough investigation for defect presence on a wind turbine blade, close inspection is required. This implies either trained staff tied with ropes on the blade or dismantling and transferring the blade in a workshop environment. While blade dismantling is scarcely used because it requires very long downtime, human inspection also involve a relatively high delay.

A solution to this problem is to utilize specially designed platforms that can reach the blade and implement faster inspections on site. However, current systems are not very agile or cannot reach close enough to the blade in order to use a high quality nondestructive technique. Hence, they are mostly used to carry out mere visual inspections. To deal with the aforementioned challenge, our team will commercialize WInspector. WInspector consists of an agile robotic platform able to climb up the wind turbine tower and deploy an advanced Digital Shearography kit that carries out the inspection of a blade at a depth of up to 50mm.

Users of WInspector benefit through early detecting emerging defects unseen in a visual inspection performed by competing solutions, with a significantly lower downtime for the WTB, and free of dangerous human labor. We have tested and validated the capabilities of WInspector in relevant environment and based on feedback received by wind farm operators, including project participant Gamesa and Iberdola (who has supported us in writing for this application), we are now ready to take the next steps and complete product development allowing us to bring WInspector into the market.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

A market search revealed that there are blades that have a limited pitch range (unlike the Vestas ones that have 180°). For instance, G90 blades of Gamesa, which are popular worldwide, feature a pitch range of just 90°. Given the previous prototype design, only one side of the blades of G90 would be able to be inspected. To overcome this important limitation, the only viable solution to reach all critical areas of inspection, as indicated by the end user, was to develop a new robotic manipulator for the NDT system with a much bigger workspace (around 4m).

However, for the maximum reach, undesirable vibrations (i.e. wind gusts), on all planes, would be inevitably amplified causing the shearography unit to underperform. The optimum engineering solution pursued was to develop a specially designed deployment platform able to adhere on the WTB (via suction) with safety and reliability, maximizing the efficiency and resolution of the NDT unit, thus providing high quality NDT services to all end users. With this new deployment strategy, it is believed all WTBs in the market will be able to be inspected as required by end users.

With the new deployment strategy, both the robot platform and the shearography system need to have significant modifications. For the shearography system, the major modification carried out by TWI involved reducing the weight to a minimal so that it can be carried safely by the vacuum suction based robotic manipulator. The weight of the new shearography system has been reduced from 10kg to around 4kg. Furthermore, it has IP55 protection against rain and snow, so that the system can operate on a wind turbine tower in future.

The new shearography system was integrated with a vacuum suction based manipulator. The integrated system was tested in lab, during which the system was fully suspended by the vacuum sucking force, and the shearography was directly attached to the WTB surface. This proved that the integrated system was working.

For the robotic deployment platform, the new design includes a vacuum sucking manipulator on top of the original robot deployment platform. Several solutions were proposed and explored for the structure/mechanism to reach between the robot climbing up the monopile and the blade. A “trullo” mechanism was selected which complies with the oscillation of the blade because of the sliding ball-and-socket joint at the back of the mechanism and features a retrieval mechanism able to return the SUH to the initial position regardless of the displacement of the blade. A CAD design of the “trullo” was produced for manufacturing.

Because of the above significant modifications in the robotic platform, the whole platform has not been manufactured yet. Therefore validation of the whole WInspector system in real working conditions on a wind tower is expected to be performed in later this year. Nevertheless, we have performed some outdoor validation tests of the shearography and a sucking based manipulator (SUH) on a 4m long WTB sample which is erected vertically to simulate an actual WTB hanging from the nacelle on a wind tower. Preliminary test proved that the strategy of attaching the shearography system directly on the WTB surface is practical.

In terms of marketing, a marketing plan has been produced. This is because the consortium is aware of the huge wind energy market and recognizes the potential for the WInspecotr technique and system. The marketing plan is centered on the unique selling point of the WInspector system that combines individual advantages of competing methods into a unified NDT system. Digital shearography, a technique that has already been widely adopted by various industrial sectors to inspect composite materials, has the potential to identify sub-surface defects within WTBs on-site. This will help prevent costly blade failure incidents as smaller defects can be repaired before they develop into larger defects.

In order to sell the whole WInspector syste

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Originally, the project is expected to have the following main impact:

• €232m savings in maintenance costs over 5 years after launch for EU wind industry
• Reduction of life threatening risks during wind turbine inspection and maintenance

Up to now, these main impacts are still relevant, but requires a bit more time (6-9 months) to deliver.

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