Riley Kooh | October 5th, 2022
The Green Economy is a rapidly growing and vitally important part of our energy mix. Part of this growth is the increased investment in wind power generation. As many existing wind farms enter their second decade of service, and new builds are being exponentially pursued, the need for inspections and maintenance is increasing quickly. Offshore wind farms are particularly subject to degradation due to the salt-laden air, higher wind velocities, and prolonged UV exposure.
The dangers that can occur while working at confined heights are reflected in the tragic loss of 19 and 21 year old mechanics burnt on top of a wind turbine in Deltawind’s Piet de Wit wind farm in the Netherlands. The two men were atop an 80m wind turbine performing routine maintenance while a circuitry issue sparked an internal fire. The height at which the fire occurred made extinguishing very difficult, and the two men were two far situated inside to escape.
Additionally, the cost and time associated with involving multiple specialized employees in a manual inspection process can quickly add up. An average sized turbine takes roughly 3-6 hours to complete, excluding any preparation and safety procedures. With most organizations recommending two inspections per year, this can quickly add up to weeks or months of expensive and dangerous work depending on the size of the wind farm.
One downfall of aerial drones for inspection is the lacking performance in confined or inclement conditions. While they are an extremely useful tool for exterior inspections, turbine hubs and blades may prove challenging for navigation and connectivity. Additionally, blades commonly utilize a variety of lubricating fluids, which in an exposed motor system can result in failures. With nothing tethering the vehicle, this can quickly turn into a dangerous retrieval mission.
Utilizing a battery powered pipe crawler, workers can either hand-carry or crane/winch hoist the vehicle to the hub. Once atop, a single operator can drive the crawler through the blade, recording footage along the way. A massive benefit in this compared to human entry is the limits to which the crawler can survey. Blades will slowly lose diameter as they reach the end, with most being unreachable for the last 30%. Using a pipe crawler, workers can get a clear visual for the entire length.
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|-360° Pan/Tilt/Zoom Full HD Camera||-Automatic Reel|
|-Weatherproof Controller||-Up to 310m Tether|
|-Motorized Arm||-Rear Camera|
|-3 Rubber Wheel Kits||-Pneumatic Tires|
|-512 Hz Sonde||-Tablet Style Controller|
|-Floodlights & Laser Scaler|
|-2 Pelican Cases|
The operation began by hoisting the A-200 up to the nacelle, although the crawler’s portable design also allows it to be hand-carried if the turbine doesn’t have a crane. After the simple and intuitive setup process, one of Kruger’s technicians inserted the A-200 into the blade and began the inspection in minutes. During a first attempt, the operator was able to collect detailed visual data of the entire blade set within two hours. This data is critical to help inform rehabilitation decisions for ongoing preventative maintenance.
Once securely connected to the vehicle, the tether provides instant, reliable communication, while also serving as an effective retrieval tool. Wireless solutions are subject to connectivity issues in confined spaces and can quickly become irretrievable during an inspection. Inspection equipment with exposed motors can struggle or fail in wet and dusty environments while an A-200 is fully sealed and submersible up to 50m so things like fine particles and films pose no threat to regular operation. And with tether lengths up to 310m or 1,000ft, the A-200 can also be operated from a ground station when the need arises.
While advanced grit or tracked wheel configurations are available for the A-200, the traction of the standard rubber wheelset performed well at grades up to 5 degrees, in spite of the presence of a slippery film on the driving surface. Although the blade itself was at the 9 oclock position, this demonstrates the crawler’s ability to perform inspections throughout the curvature of a blade. In the A-200s smallest configuration we were able to reach within a few meters of the tip of the blade, and the 10x optical zoom function can assist in monitoring fine details beyond its positional capabilities.
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