iFROG, an amphibious robot capable of working in teams to inspect and clean monopile foundations above the water level and up to 60 m below has successfully completed trials at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth
The multi-robot solution was developed under a three-year project that was funded by Innovate UK and brought together iFROG developer InnoTecUK, ORE Catapult, TWI and Brunel University London.
Teams of iFROG robots will be able to clean corrosion and biofouling from monopiles, before inspecting the surfaces and conducting pre-emptive checks of weld integrity.
ORE Catapult believes the technology has the potential to be a game-changer in the offshore wind industry, reducing the risks and costs involved in deploying human divers to monopiles, and shifting the maintenance approach from reactive to preventative.
By upping the frequency and quality of subsea inspections, said the ORE Catapult, iFROG could save up to £150,000 per offshore wind turbine per annum.
Initial technology demonstrations, which took place at the ORE Catapult dry and wet docks earlier in 2020, saw iFROG navigate a monopile interior using magnetic adhesion and conduct non-destructive testing (NDT).
The robot proved its ability to scale the interiors of monopiles diagonally, not just up and down as wheeled robots have done previously. Its amphibious capabilities were tested too, with the robot moving easily between dry and underwater sections of the monopile.
During the final trials, two robots demonstrated how they can work together in a team above and below the waterline. The first robot performed corrosion mapping and water-jet cleaning of the monopile. The second robot inspected weld lines to assess integrity and flag potential defects.
The technology is expected to find markets beyond the offshore wind industry by targeting the oil and gas sector, ship hull manufacturing and maintenance, military, and other large-structure related industries, both on and off land.
InnoTecUK robotics engineer Panagiotis Karfakis said, “During the first series of trials, the consortium validated the performance of the onboard NDT interfaces, which enable a wide range of equipment for asset inspections. iFROG incorporates essential cleaning gear and can remove biofouling and corrosion from off the steel surface at relatively fast rates.
“The robot is also capable of semi-automated navigation which allows the operator to focus on the important part of the inspection rather than the driving, speeding up the overall operation significantly. The final set of trials has demonstrated the full capabilities of this technology and its impact in real-world scenarios, especially in extreme offshore environments.”
ORE Catapult operational performance director Chris Hill said, “iFROG is one of a series of highly ambitious robotics projects coming through our innovation programmes and our Operations and Maintenance Centre of Excellence (OMCE).
“Deploying robotic platforms in teams across offshore wind sites will tighten up inspection and maintenance schedules, reducing the need for human technicians to deploy in potentially hazardous environments.
“Versatile applications like iFROG have the potential for high economic impact in the future. The UK is already a world leader in operations and maintenance for the offshore wind sector, and that market is set to grow rapidly in the coming decades. With applications now being assessed across a variety of other sectors, the technology is set to be a driver of market expansion and job creation in the coming years.”