A wind turbine blade inspection and repair robot being developed in Britain has successfully carried out its first blade walk on an operating turbine writes Dag Pike.

BladeBUG uses suction and robotics to walk its way along the turbine blade

BladeBUG uses suction and robotics to walk its way along the turbine blade

Conceived as a method of checking out the blades of wind turbines remotely without requiring as many humans to work at height, the BladeBUG development represents a major step forward in the technology for this challenging operation that is proving increasingly important in the offshore wind turbine industry. Currently the inspection of turbine blades is carried out by rigging ropes on the turbine to allow manual access.

The BladeBUG attaches itself to the composite turbine blade by means of vacuum suction pads attached to the legs of the robot. The six legs of the robot can be operated sequentially to allow the robot to ‘walk along the blade and the body of the robot can carry a variety of ‘cargoes’ that can be used for inspection and repair work.

ORE Catapult’s 7mW Levenmouth Demonstration turbine which is located off the coast of Fife in Scotland was used for the demonstration. Over two days in mid-October, the six-legged robot repeatedly scaled blades on the turbine and during the demonstration, BladeBUG walked 50m on a vertically positioned blade on the turbine which is 84m long, with the tip reaching 195m above the sea when upright.

According to ORE Catapult, the technology demonstrated perfect adherence of its vacuum-padded feet to blade surfaces in offshore conditions, as well as the ability to navigate the varying curvatures of the blade surfaces in a variety of scenarios. BladeBUG is anticipated to enable a 30% cost reduction on current blade inspection techniques, whilst for the larger next-generation turbines, ORE Catapult predicts that the cost savings could reach as much as 50%.

“This is an incredibly significant technology that we know is being keenly watched by the industry as a potential game-changer. It has a clear potential for cutting costs, reducing human offshore deployment and increasing blade lifetimes,” said Chris Hill, ORE Catapult’s Operational Performance Director.

The robot is a key component of the £4.2 million MIMRee project which is designed to demonstrate a fully autonomous inspection and repair mission to an offshore wind farm with the robot operating from autonomous support vessels. The final MIMRee system technology trials are set to take place in mid-2021.