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Troublesome turbines

Offshore wind-turbine maintenance is a monumental challenge--and it is getting bigger. "There are thousands out there's predicted to be thousands more," says Tony Fong, engineering manager at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. "The turbines are going further offshore, which makes the whole maintenance aspect a lot more difficult."

Inclement weather, costly downtime and daily use of crew transfer vessels all add up to a tricky and expensive task. The solution, according to a consortium of eight industry and academic partners, could be folly robotic. Funded by Innovate UK, the 4m [pounds sterling] Mimree (Multi-Platfonn Inspection, Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments) project aims to combine robotics, nondestructive testing, AI, space mission expertise, marine and aerial engineering and 'nanobiotechnoiogy'.

Using the Catapult's insight and expertise, the two-year project will put a drone system from the University, of Bristol and a six-legged crawling repair robot called BladeBug onboard Thales's autonomous Halcyon boat. The 'mothership'will : sail out to windfanns where the drones will take off, using high-definition cameras for visual turbine inspection. The BladeBug bots will then crawl across turbine blades, using hyperspectral imaging and an electronic 'skin' to identify faults before using a robotic arm to repair them.

Next generation

Reducing downtime "is a big factor for new offshore wind turbines," says Fong. "These new turbines are getting larger in capacity, so we're talking about 10MW in future --or greater--and, if you shut that down for half a day for maintenance, that creates a lot more of a problem than the current turbine generation."

Mimree technology or similar systems could reduce downtime and cut the number of crew transfers to turbines, in tum encouraging operators to build more ambitious installations--facilitating the industry growth which is called for in the fight to decarbonise energy generation.

Replacing humans with a robot team could raise the issue of job losses, but Fong claims Mimree would help the sector prepare for a skills shortage. Workers might transfer from turbine inspection to robot production and maintenance.

Savings Mimree could reportedly bring to an average windfarm over its lifetime 26m [pounds sterling]

Current offshore wind capacity around the UK 7.9GW

Minimum offshore target capacity by 2030 30GW

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Title Annotation:WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ...
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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