In a first of its kind demonstration, a six-legged robot has shown how it can inspect wind turbine bolts autonomously, eliminating the need for technicians to loosen and retighten thousands of bolts per wind turbine as part of routine maintenance.
Funded by Innovate UK and executed in collaboration with GE Renewable Energy and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, the project brought together BladeBUG and EchoBolt, both fast-growing UK SMEs creating offshore technologies.
The cost savings to the European onshore and offshore wind fleet could exceed £250 million per year, according to ORE Catapult. It will also reduce time spent on maintenance, critical structural failures and extend turbine lifetimes at sea, all of which will be crucial as the European market looks set to accelerate its expansion as Russian fossil fuel imports reduce.
The robot successfully crawled the interior of ORE Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine in Fife, Scotland. It inspected bolts to identify any loss of tension. The achievement could lead to the production of a predictive schedule for future operations, while also paving the way for the EchoBoltBUG to perform bolt checks autonomously.
Pete Andrews, EchoBolt’s founder, said: “The challenge of regularly retightening thousands of wind turbine bolts, that can weigh up to 20kg each, is the leading cause of scheduled downtime in the wind industry, and presents a number of significant health and safety challenges to operators.
“EchoBolt technology is actively supporting over 4GW of capacity in managing bolted joints through a condition-based approach, eliminating the requirement for time-based retightening.
“However, we are determined not to stand still and are passionate about remaining at the forefront of innovation in the sector. The opportunity to collaborate on the development of EchoBoltBUG has provided a fantastic demonstration of the pathway to an autonomous future for the wind industry.”