Project Overview

The AutoWinSpec project is partly funded by the European Seventh Framework Program (FP7) over two years. The AutoWinSpec project will provide a system to automatically estimate the condition and remaining lifespan of the blades, by eliminating dangerous rope access and reducing downtime whilst increasing productivity.

The inspection involves the following steps:
- An autonomous robotic system, carrying the NDT equipment, crawls on a horizontally stalled blade along its spar area.
- Using novel Acousto-Ultrasonic NDE technique the condition of the blades is estimated.
- The NDT transducers are applied through two specially designed probe holders to perform the inspection as a continuous process.
- The coordinates and respective measurements are stored and through novel signal analysis techniques a map of the mechanical properties of the blades is produced pinpointing defects and estimating the remaining life of the entire blade. The AutoWinSpec system aims for a target reduction of 84% in maintenance costs, since the inspection process will be completed in half time compared to current practice eliminating the need for trained operators. By including the reduction of revenue loss through increased downtime, overall savings can be greater. In addition, project SMEs will have enhanced access to the EU wind turbine maintenance market, set to reach 42 € billion, i.e., 30% of renewable sources revenue by 2020.

The AutoWinSpec consortium has conceived a system to automatically estimate the condition of the blades .The proposed system will make use of an autonomous robotic system crawling on the WTB and novel use of Acousto - Ultrasonic NDE for condition assessment of WT-blades offering the following benefits:

  • Fast (<1 hour per blade), low cost (84% cheaper), on-site inspection of WT blades
  • Identification of areas exhibiting poor mechanical properties (strength, rigidity, stiffness etc.) with mm localisation resolution with 10mm defect sensitivity
  • Automated process eliminating the need for bulky equipment and trained operators to climb on the WTs
  • Elimination of downtime by accurately estimating the blade’s condition

The AutoWinSpec system will be carried on-site by a conventional vehicle (or boats for offshore installations) without the need for additional equipment. One untrained operator will deploy the system on the blade in less than an hour. Then the robotic system will autonomously crawl along the blade's spar area deploying its two NDT probe holders. Acousto - Ultrasonic NDE will be used with a couple of transducers/receivers placed on each probe holder to perform the inspection as a continuous process. The process will be repeated for the remaining 2 blades. The whole procedure will be performed in less than 4 hours. Afterwards using advanced signal analysis and pattern recognition a map of the blade presenting the mechanical properties with mm accuracy will be produced and remaining lifespan will be estimated.

The proposed solution will conform to the following target specifications:

Non-Destructive technique

  • identify the defects/areas with poor mechanical properties (mm accuracy) and fatigue life of the blade
  • achieve inspection time <1 hour per blade
  • With low power requirements to achieve 2 inspections without recharging
  • Robotic system

    • Crawl autonomously along the spar area and deploy the NDT probe holders on WT blades (provide the required vertical force) despite their oscillations and perform full area coverage <1 hour
    • To be deployed in less than 30 min by two operators operator

    Integrated system

    • Target manufacturing price of 70,000 euro
    • 30-50 kg weight, autonomous (2 inspections without recharging)
    • <4 hour inspection of a WT (including deployment of the mechanism)
    • Able to be carried by conventional boat or car without additional equipment

    Hence Wind Farm Owners will have their blades inspected rapidly with low cost, enabling them to build a long term strategy for maximising blade life and performance and reduce/eliminate downtime (new blade to be ordered on time); repair flaws affecting the blade’s functionality before they deteriorate, expanding the lifespan of the blade.