Wind turbines are a great source of clean energy, but their obvious simplicity – just a big thing – lies in complex systems that wear out like any other system and can fail with terrible consequences. Sandia National Labs researchers have created a robot that can independently test turbine codes, helping to keep our green energy infrastructure in good range.
The huge towers that gather energy from the air currents are often just a few minutes as we walk past. But they must stand for years during stormy weather, extreme temperatures, and of course – being the longest things around – lightning strikes. Adjacent with normal wear and tear Obviously these things should be checked regularly.
But these inspections can be difficult and superficial. The blades themselves are among the largest individual organisms manufactured on the planet, and are often installed in remote or inaccessible areas, such as many things you see outside.
"The blade is prone to light, cold, rain, humidity and other forces during jogging during a billion load cycles during its lifetime, but you can not just drop it in the barn for maintenance" Sandia Joshua Packett made it clear in a press release. In other words, crews not only have to go to the turbines to search them, but also to carry out these inspections – on structures that are hundreds of feet long and possibly dangerous.
Leverage is one of the options, but you can also guide the code down so the inspector can collapse in length. Even so, the inspection may not be more than a surface repellent.
In these visual scans, you see only damage to the surface. "Often, by the time you see a crack on the outside of the blade, the damage is already severe," Bakheet said.
Clearly, better and deeper inspections are needed, and this is what the team has decided to work with, with partners International Climbing Machines and Dophitech. The result is this crawling robot, which can move slowly but steadily, visually document it and use ultrasound imaging.
Visual inspection will see cracks or scabs on the surface, but ultrasound penetrates deeply into the blades, making it capable of detecting damage to the inner layers long before they appear outside. It can do so largely independently, moving slightly like a lawn mower: side by side, from bottom to top.
Of course at this stage, it is done very slowly and requires human supervision, but this is because it is new outside the laboratory. In the near future, teams can carry some of these things, attach one with each blade, and return after several hours or days to find specific problem areas for inspection or close scan. A crawling robot may be able to live on the turbine and proceed to inspect each blade regularly.
The other method used by the researchers is UAVs – a natural enough solution, where the versatile flyers were pressed into service to examine many other structures that pose a danger to humans for getting around: bridges, monuments, etc.
These unmanned aircraft will be equipped with high-resolution cameras and infrared sensors that detect heat signatures in the blade. The idea is that when the sun shines through the blade, it will do so irregularly in areas where the damage beneath the surface has changed its thermal properties.
As the automation of these systems improves, opportunities open: the fast-forward of an unmanned aircraft can allow the crew to see if any particular tower needs careful inspection, and then run the crawler onboard for a closer look. Meanwhile, humans are on their way to getting a better picture of what to do, and there is no need to risk their lives and limbs just for a look.