The world’s first blade walk by a robot on an offshore wind turbine took place in UK in mid-October, when the six-legged inspect-and-repair robot BladeBUG repeatedly scaled blades at ORE Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration turbine off the coast of Fife.
The robot is being developed under a £1 million collaboration project between BladeBUG and ORE Catapult, part funded by Innovate UK. The blade walk at an operational offshore wind turbine has now proven that the robot can conduct lengthy deployments in real-world conditions.
By the project’s end next year, BladeBUG is expected to be capable of inspecting blade surfaces for emergent cracks and imperfections, transmitting data on their condition back to shore and resurfacing the blades.
BladeBUG represents a 30% cost reduction on current blade inspection techniques, which are conducted by rope-access technicians, with a measurable knock-on effect to the levelised cost of energy. For next generation turbines, ORE Catapult predicts the cost savings could reach as much as 50%.
During the demonstration, the robot walked 50 metres on a vertically positioned blade on the Levenmouth turbine (a length of 84 metres with the tip reaching 195 metres above the sea when upright).
It has a clear potential for cutting costs, reducing human offshore deployment and increasing blade lifetimes…Robotics are here to stay, and they will be an essential ingredient to operating ever-expanding wind farms, deeper-water sites and faster, bigger turbines in the coming years,
…said Chris Hill, ORE Catapult’s Operational Performance Director.
The robot is also a key component of the £4.2 million MIMRee project which will demonstrate a fully autonomous inspection and repair mission to an offshore wind farm.
MIMRee (Multi-Platform Inspection, Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments) is a two-year project funded by Innovate UK, which seeks to demonstrate how autonomous motherships and robotic crews are capable of planning and executing inspection and repair missions without the need for an offshore human presence.
During these trials, BladeBUG will work in collaboration with an autonomous vessel and teams of drones, using a robotic arm to clean and resurface damaged blades. The final MIMRee system technology trials are set to take place in mid-2021.