New Tech for Wind Blade Inspections
According to Sandia National Laboratories’ researchers, drones as well as crawling robots that are fitted with significant scanning technology could help to extend the lifespan of wind blades. While blades are getting expensive, the technology can lower the cost of inspection and power.
Sandia researchers have partnered with other businesses to develop devices that can inspect for concealed damages to the blade in response to the Department of Energy’s Blade Reliability collaborative work initiative that is funded by the Wind Energy Technologies Office. The inspection machines are noninvasive and they are more detailed and faster compared to traditional cameras used for inspection.
According to engineers at Sandia, a wind blade is the largest single-piece composite structure which is larger than any airplane. These blades are often placed on machines in remote places and are exposed to lightning, hail, humidity and other forces of weather.
As such, routine inspection, repair and maintenance are critical in keeping the blades operating. The problem with current inspection technology is that it cannot quickly detect faults or damages. That is what Sandia is working on to identify damage while it is still minor through the use of robotics research. The damage can be fixed when it is still minor and this helps to extend the life of the blade.
The challenge of inspecting and repairing wind blades in their location
The industry has two traditional methods of inspecting blades. A camera person on the ground takes photos on each blade focusing on visible cracks, fault line or other damages. The second option is for an inspector to go up the tower using a crane and conduct inspection.
Visual inspections can only help identify surface damage but it would be severe inside which becomes so expensive to repair or maintain. According to engineers at Sandia, these two inspection methods are affordable hence their popularity. However, they miss the chance to identify the damage before it worsens, a problem crawling robots and drones seek to address. Drone wind turbine inspection services are leading the way in this evolution.
Crawling robots can find hidden damages
A crawling robot can move up the blade and it uses onboard cameras that capture real time data which helps to detect the damage on the surface. The robot can also scan the blade using ultrasonic imaging technique.
Robot crawlers work like ultrasound machines used by doctors to scan the interior of the body only that they will perform this action of blades. When the robot detects internal damages, it will send signals which can then be analyzed to ascertain the extent of damage to the blade. The ultrasonic inspection method can identify different types of damage within the blade. The whole idea behind this inspection method is to detect damage while it is still small to avoid expensive repairs.
The robotic crawlers can provide one stop solution to all the challenges associated with blade inspection. The method also helps to promote quick repair of the damaged blade since inspectors will be guided by checks conducted by the robot.
How drones can use heat from the sun to detect blade damage?
Drones are fitted with thermal cameras that use heat to detect all hidden damages within the blade. The method can detect damages that are about half an inch inside the blade and the method is also known as thermography. The infrared camera is used to detect the hot spots identified by the infrared camera on the blade.
Small infrared cameras can be fitted on the drones to avoid crashes. The inspection technique uses light to identify the damage on the blade and it can produce high resolution images. Lidar and super-resolution techniques can significantly help to track the precise location where the damage on the blade is. Lidar is also effective since it can help to establish the extent of erosion on the blade.
The future of autonomous inspections
Autonomous inspections are the future of conducting blade inspections since they are already in use for inspections of power lines and bridges. With autonomous inspection, there is no need for a person to be physically present on the tower since the process is automated. A drone can be deployed from another place.
Drones can significantly improve the health of the blade since they are efficient and effective in data collection. Drones can be deployed to all wind turbines and gather information that can be analyzed by the plant operator for solutions. A robotic crawler can then be deployed to all blades suspected of having damages for detailed analysis.