Autonomous Inspection and Repair Project Reports Several Breakthroughs

The two-year, Innovate UK-funded MIMRee (Multi-Platform Inspection, Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments) project has revealed breakthroughs achieved during its first year.

The MIMRee project has made concrete steps toward reaching its ultimate goal of having an autonomous system capable of planning its own operational missions to offshore wind farms and deploying the system for demonstration. The system includes a mothership that scans moving wind turbine blades on approach and then launches drones carrying blade crawlers for forensic inspection and repair of damaged blades.

“This time last year we could talk about a spectacular concept. A year in, we can say that MIMRee is not futorology, but an imminent possibility with a host of technological breakthroughs achieved”, said Martin Bourton, Project Lead at Plant Integrity.

Source: ORE Catapult/Thales Halcyon

The project has achieved blur-free images of moving wind turbine blades of the Thales imaging system at Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine off the coast of Fife.

“Scanning blades for defects, without stopping turbines for days at a time, is considered a game-changer for wind farm operations”, ORE Catapult states in a press release from 24 June.

Furthermore, the MIMRee mission planning software has been integrated with the Thales vessel and inspection drones, with the drones having successfully coordinated launch, recovery and navigation from the vessel.

Several milestones have been marked for the BladeBUG inspect-and-repair blade crawler robot, which recently completed its latest round of testing.

The robot’s autonomous repair arm can now rapidly switch between modules for cleaning, sanding and top-coating damaged areas of blades. The arm is also providing real-time feedback visualisation and human-in-the-loop teleoperation of repair tasks via a user-interface system.

Source: ORE Catapult/RCA Robotic Repair Arm

Plant Integrity (PI) has produced the blade crawler’s non-destructive testing (NDT) payload, following experimentation with visible and short-wave infrared image capturing. The module uses an advanced machine learning algorithm and a precision scanner for exact measurement of defects under a wide variety of ambient light conditions, ORE Catapult writes.

The robot will also be able to feel the surface of the blade through an electronic skin, called Wootzkin, which will also allow the robot to determine the surface conditions of the blade helping it to walk in an extreme environment. In addition, the electronic skin will enable the robot’s existing vacuum system to attach onto the blade more accurately by using supervised machine learning algorithms.

The autonomous inspect and repair solution from the MIMRee project is expected to save around GBP 26 million over the course of a lifetime of an average offshore wind farm.

Eight industry and academic partners are working together on the project: Plant Integrity, Thales, ORE Catapult, Wootzano, Royal Holloway University of London, the University of Manchester, the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Art.

Plant Integrity is leading the project consortium, while ORE Catapult is providing offshore wind industry insight, engineering expertise, and access to facilities for testing and demonstration.

Photo: ORE Catapult/Wootzano; Electronic skin