A six-legged robot has undertaken the world’s first ‘blade walk’ by a machine on an offshore wind turbine off the coast of Fife.
Over two days last month, the inspect-and-repair robot repeatedly scaled blades at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration turbine
The robot is being developed under a £1m collaboration project between BladeBUG and ORE Catapult, part-funded by Innovate UK. By the project’s end next year, BladeBUG’s robot will be capable of inspecting blade surfaces for emergent cracks and imperfections, transmitting data on their condition back to shore and resurfacing the blades.
The robot had previously demonstrated its abilities on blade sections and the vertical training tower at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. The blade walk at an operational offshore wind turbine has now proven that the robot can conduct lengthy deployments in real-world conditions.
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).
The robot adheres to the blade via vacuum-padded feet and transmits data from blade scans and live video feed to technicians.
“This is an incredibly significant technology that we know is being keenly watched by the industry as a potential game-changer,” said Chris Hill, ORE Catapult’s operational performance director.
“It has a clear potential for cutting costs, reducing human offshore deployment and increasing blade lifetimes. But, we had yet to see how the robot would perform on a real turbine out at sea. I consider BladeBUG’s first walk at Levenmouth as offshore wind’s ‘moon walk – a historic milestone in the industry’s evolution. 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.”
BladeBUG claims a 30% reduction on current blade inspection techniques, which are conducted by rope-access technicians. For next generation turbines, ORE Catapult predicts the cost savings could reach as much as 50%. These costs have traditionally been one of the primary areas of concern for offshore operators, as sea conditions and faster tip speeds can lead to significant blade damage over time.
Chris Cieslak, BladeBUG CEO, said: “This is such a historic moment for us as a company. In a little over a year we have gone from designing and testing our first prototype, to taking our first tentative steps with our Mark I robot, to now, seeing the BladeBUG robot walk along the blade of an actual offshore wind turbine. We cannot wait to perform further trials and demonstrate the capabilities further offshore.”
The robot is also a key component of the £4.2m MIMRee project that will demonstrate fully autonomous inspection and repair of an offshore wind farm. 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.