Advanced Forming Research Centre Wind turbine blade inspection

The metrology team at the AFRC and Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering (CUE) at the University of Strathclyde are engaged in a project that will reduce operations and maintentance costs, downtime and increase energy yield.

The in-situ blade inspection project will remotely inspect the structural health of an operating blade by assessing captured images. Early detection of incipient defects will minimise intensified loading, maintain structural integrity and maximise blade life-cycle.

The objective is to use drones with photogrammetry payload to assess the blade condition. With sufficient depth-of-field, an algorithm will stitch together the acquired images to provide an overview of blade condition and defect detail.

A feasibility study of in-situ non-destructive testing for inspection of wind turbine blades to:

  • Efficiently and accurately assess the condition of the blade using remote inspection techniques.
  • Evaluate automated technologies to assess blade structural integrity.
  • Explore future possibilities to integrate remote blade inspection with a repair application.

Upon completion, the project will have successfully demonstrated the feasibility of automated inspection of onshore wind turbines featuring glass fibre reinforced plastic rotor blades.

Duration: August 2016 – June 2017

Community

There is a stakeholder community associated with the in-situ blade inspection and repair project who are involved in high value manufacturing and are interested in the project outputs.

To date, we have registered interest from Gaia-Wind and Kingspan Wind – both located in the West of Scotland.

Gaia-Wind have contributed a 6.25 m commercial wind turbine blade for inspection purposes as have Kingspan Wind with a 268 cm domestic wind turbine blade.

Members of the community receive regular updates on the project and are invited to workshops to discuss the project. Community members may also have opportunities to trial some of the in-process developments.  If you are interested in joining the stakeholder community, please get in touch.

Contact

Project coordinator: Dr Kenneth Burnham, AFRC, University of Strathclyde, UK.

kenneth.burnham@strath.ac.uk

+44 (0)141 534 5566

Wind turbines 

Ten Questions with a Wind Energy Expert...

Wind energy has transformed from a niche sector to a mainstream industry. Increasingly competitive and attracting more investment yearly, the wind sector is set to thrive in the 21st century. So what are researchers doing at the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) to help this industry? We investigate with the AFRC’s metrology engineer and wind energy expert, Dr Kenneth Burnham.

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Kenny, can you tell us a bit about your experience working in the wind energy sector over the years?

I have worked with a number of different wind energy companies over the years including The Welding Institute (TWI), Selex ES, Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) and Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE).  The main focus of my research has always focused on the structural health monitoring of wind turbine blades using non-destructive testing.  

In your experience working in the sector, what have you found to be the main technical issues with wind turbine blades? 

The main issue is deterioration in the blade structure. Defects are generally detected at a relatively advanced stage which means that energy yield has almost certainly been compromised for a long period of time. The defect may be at a stage which threatens the survival of a blade component.

What does the wind turbine blade inspection project involve at the AFRC?

Our project involves aiming to reduce operations and maintenance costs, downtime and increase energy yield.  In order to achieve this, we remotely inspect the structural health of an operating blade by assessing captured images. Early detection of defects minimises intensified loading, maintain structural integrity and maximises blade life-cycle.  We use drones to assess the blade condition. We then stitch together the acquired images to provide an overview of blade condition and defect detail.

Who’s involved in this project?

The partners in this project are the AFRC, the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering and EDF Energy. The input that we receive from EDF Energy is crucial as this ensures relevance to the wind energy sector.

How important are drones for blade inspection projects these days?

Without doubt, drones are the future for blade inspection. They are readily available and can capture data in just a few minutes.  By comparison, current remote inspection techniques, such as ground inspection using binoculars, are not fully reliable and can be time consuming and cost-heavy. 

What do you plan to achieve at the end of it?

We hope to engage with the wind energy sector and show them the benefits of this inspection approach as part of the sector’s drive to ensure reliability, provide affordability, and achieve sustainability. Until very recently most turbines were designed for a 20-year life-cycle. It is therefore particularly important that a technical solution forms part of the overall plan. 

How can the results of this research help other wind energy providers?

The focus in this project has been on the onshore wind sector. However, all the arguments for the EDF blade project have an even greater resonance for the off-shore wind sector where operations and maintenance costs are considerably more expensive where gaining access for inspection can be a formidable undertaking with costs to match. 

By introducing additional levels of system robustness, there is no reason why this project cannot be developed into an integrated operations and maintenance solution for offshore wind farms. 

How do you see wind energy technology developing over the next few years?

Scotland is one of the windiest places in the world.  This is a replenishing resource which can be harnessed to meet the UK’s needs. With a proper technical service presence, operations and maintenance costs can be reduced to a level such that public financial support for capital investment can be mitigated. 

Wind turbines and blades are getting bigger and this necessitates a support solution that can form a basis for operations and maintenace strategies. The sector wishes to lower the cost of energy (LCOE) and the best way of achieving that is to ensure smooth and efficient operation with fewer incidents of downtime. 

Are there other ways that the AFRC can help wind energy companies?

There is a wealth of knowledge at the AFRC. Blades are not the only components causing downtime. Lightweight manufacturing has the potential to provide solutions for towers, nacelles and gearing components. I see the AFRC playing an integral part to solution provision for the wind energy sector.

How can companies get in touch to discuss how the AFRC can help them?

As project manager, I am always happy to discuss the project potential and what it can mean for the future of wind energy.

We welcome companies to get in touch to discuss wind energy research with our experts at info@afrc.org.uk