Danish Tech Firm Testing Its Blade Maintenance Robots Offshore, Plans to Pair Them with AI
Denmark’s developer of robotic blade maintenance technology, Rope Robotics, has started testing its robots on offshore wind turbines, with plans to launch them commercially by 2024. The company, which has now reported findings that turbine owners see a return on investment within just six months, also plans to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) in the future.
Over the past 18 months, the company’s robots have repaired over 150 rain-damaged onshore wind turbine blades, with nine BR-8 robots in commercial operation on wind farms in the US, Canada, South Africa, and Europe.
Rope Robotics says that its BR-8 can restore up to 3 per cent of energy output within less than one day per blade, at half the cost of manual solutions.
“Feedback from customers so far confirms our calculations that after six months, the investment in the robot repair service has paid off”, says Martin Huus Bjerge, CEO at Rope Robotics. “The robot has been well received especially in countries like the U.S. and South Africa where there has been a backlog of repairs. The robot is therefore an additional capacity to the market right now.”
Test repairs on offshore wind turbines are currently underway, the company said in a press release on 6 February. Rope Robotics plans to launch its robots for use in the offshore wind industry at the end of this year.
The Danish robotics specialist added that it was also investing in AI to offer autonomous repairs in the future.
The blade maintenance robot from Rope Robotics carries visual sensors and operates repair tools using a flexible arm. Technicians operate the robot remotely on-screen by viewing live images, which are also recorded and serve as documentation.
“On site, the 150-kg robot is first attached to ropes that have been anchored in the nacelle before it is hoisted some 100 meters from the ground onto the damaged blade, which has been fixed in a vertical position. A vacuum system allows the robot to attach itself firmly while motors enable movement across the blade. Using its onboard high-resolution camera and laser scanner, the robot inspects the surface, sending images to the remote operator, who diagnoses the damage and initiates the repair process in real time”, Rope Robotcis states in the press release.
The repair process is done in three steps. The first one is sanding the damaged area. A second tool cleans the surface using a brush and alcohol to remove dirt and grease. Then, a dosing tool applies the leading-edge protective (LEP) material while a spreader tool rebuilds the optimal aerodynamic blade shape, smoothening the material to pre-defined standards.
Back in 2018, Rope Robotics was awarded DKK 16 million by Danish Government’s Scheme for Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP) to develop its technology.
The company, which holds two patents covering the robot system, says that with the method, the spreading tool and the dosing tool, the robot took five years to develop and was launched in 2021.
“Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest challenge was to develop a functioning spreader and dosing tool that can apply viscous material both accurately and flexibly to fit different blade types. There are so many variables to consider like temperature, humidity and fluid dynamics. Implementing that into a fully functioning robot that is now working on wind farms around the world was an arduous but fulfilling task”, Martin Huus Bjerge said.
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