Forth Engineering in Cumbria together, with a consortium of industrial and academic partners – Innvotek, TWI, ORE Catapult, Renewable Advice and London South Bank University – are developing the RADBLAD technology. RADBLAD is a lightweight robot competent in carrying out an X-ray maintenance survey of wind turbines offshore and onshore. Forth and its partners are more than halfway through a two-year project, funded by Innovate UK, to develop its RADBLAD technology.
The businesses and organisations involved have a wide range of expertise in robotic development and manufacture, radiography development, and AI algorithm software development. The innovation is in line with the UK government’s policy of increasing renewable power to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.
At present wind turbines, surveys are carried out manually by maintenance engineers climbing the wind turbine and its blades with rope access. Each section of the RADBLAD system weighs less than 25kg, which will make surveys safer, faster, and cheaper, eliminating the need for putting lives at risk.
The elements that differentiate RADBLAD in comparison with other system is the use of radiographic based in-situ inspection, automatic detection of defects using an artificial intelligent (AI) based software, and the use of a modular approach for the robotic system. The advantages of this system are the early detection of blade (internal) defects.
The technology will be ready for testing in a representative environment in April 2021 at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth in Northumberland and ready to deliver the solution later in 2021.
Peter Routledge, Programme Manager, Forth said: “RADBLAD is a world-first magnetically-adhering, wall-climbing robot, with a manipulator arm which deploys an x-ray system around a blade. An end effector holds the source and detector against the blade, so they move with the blade in the presence of 3-D blade vibrations. A crucial and novel extension of RADBLAD lies in the use of a radiographic system for inspection and in providing an integrated solution offering a high-quality, efficient inspection method, which is human-safe. Unlike ground radiography inspection, RADBLAD does not require costly, time-consuming onshore dismantling of blades and transportation to a workshop, inspection in X-ray bays and return and reassembly, which can take around ten days during which time revenue is lost due to generating downtime. The consortium involved in the project has been able to press ahead with the work and find solutions to working in a way which allows the project to keep progressing while often operating remotely.”
Peter added: “This project represents a clear technological innovation for the UK offshore wind generation industry and a major growth opportunity for the SME supply chain consortium. It has the potential to make significant cost and efficiency savings, with strong prospects in terms of exporting this technology around the world.”
Mark Telford, Managing Director, Forth, said: “This will be another world-first for Forth and another example of where an industry has a specific challenge and has asked us to come up with a solution. This is the way we like to work, and if other industries are facing similar challenges, we are always happy to talk to them.”