Using robots above and below the water can help to enhance operations and maintenance and reduce costs
A robotic crawler designed to inspect wind turbine blades is being developed with the help of a £50,000 (US$69,000) grant from the UK’s SCORE Innovation fund as a 3D visualisation system to survey underwater structures in offshore windfarms.
Great Yarmouth-based ATAM Group’s magnetic crawler climbs turbine towers and then uses a camera and electronic arm to check for blade damage.
ATAM tested the crawler on the full-size turbine training tower and blades at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s facilities in Northumberland, which is offered as part of its £50,000 grant award from the £6M SCORE fund.
The trials enabled the ATAM team to identify any shortcomings in the system and access expert advice and make contacts with potential customers gathered at ORE Catapult’s Blyth facilities or a blades conference.
SCORE, which helps SMEs across England develop new products, processes and ideas that solve problems and drive efficiency in offshore renewables, bringing benefit to the East of England, has so far awarded more than £850,000 worth of grants for more than 20 projects worth over £2.4M.
ATAM managing director Mark Loades explained that the Inspection Mag remotely operated vehicle is intended to provide an alternative to manned rope access teams for asset inspection. Doing so can increase safety, productivity and cost efficiency, he believes.
“Our original plan was to have the robot gripping and travelling along the outside of the blade, but the tests at ORE Catapult ruled that out, so we are switching to a magnetic crawler on the tower with a high definition camera to look for blade damage and an arm that extends to touch and test the blade lightning conductors,” he explained.
“ATAM already operates magnetic robots for pipeline, tank, hull and monopile interior inspection. The Inspection Mag uses the same technology in a pioneering new application,” said Mr Loades.
He launched ATAM nearly 12 months ago, since when it has grown from two to six staff with eight contractors doing a range of work from pipeline inspection services, weld testing and process pipe cleaning to developing inspection data software.
Andrew Tipping, commercialisation manager at ORE Catapult, said the full-size wind turbine blade at ground level was “the closest they could get to the real thing”.
“ATAM couldn’t go to a windfarm operator and ask them to shut down a turbine for their research and development, which is why we have our facilities. ATAM has plenty of knowledge in oil and gas, but they were able to take away a lot of information about the offshore wind industry’s needs to support their continued technology development.”
Subsea technology company Rovco has secured Innovate UK funding to develop a 3D visualisation system as part of a two-part artificial intelligence demonstrator project potentially worth £1M.
Also working in partnership with the ORE Catapult, the first phase of the project will see Rovco develop the equipment and software required to produce live 3D data from challenging and extreme subsea environments. The technology will be trialled and tested at ORE Catapult’s renewable energy test facility in Blyth. Phase two will include the development of a complete 3D vision-based survey solution using artificial intelligence (AI).
The project partners believe that the technology could reduce offshore inspection costs by up to 80%, exploiting recent advances in both camera technology and embedded graphic processing, while utilising small, intelligent, autonomous robotic vehicles.
The first phase of the project will be 70% supported by Innovate UK, and the remaining 30% will be funded by Rovco. The planned phase two is expected to be further backed by Innovate UK once technical feasibility is proven. This will see Rovco partner with an autonomous vehicle manufacturer and other subsea companies.