Move over Mars Rover! Here comes GE’s turbine tower-climbing robot
By Anthony Capkun
June 13, 2012 – GE Global Research says it is advancing technology that will make the inspection of wind turbines faster and more reliable for customers. By partnering with Ithaca, N.Y.-based International Climbing Machines (ICM), GE engineers have explored a way to do the work using a remote-controlled, robotic device that can scale the wind tower with a wireless, high-definition video camera strapped to its back.
The motivation for the closer inspection is to obtain a more accurate picture of the overall health of the wind turbine blades. From the safety of the ground, an inspector would have a real-time view of the blades from less than 33 feet away, allowing for a more thorough examination and evaluation of their condition.
“The inspection technology platform GE is developing with ICM provides a closer view of the turbine blade to detect repair and service needs,” said Waseem Faidi, manager of the Nondestructive Evaluation Lab at GE Global Research. “And, in the future, GE researchers are working on technology that will allow inspectors to see through the blade materials and identify potential issues well in advance of any service needs. This all will mean faster diagnosis and repair, minimizing the risk of failure or forced down-time of the turbine.”
This new technology was recently tested at a wind farm in Texas with positive results, says GE. Other advantages to using the climber over conventional methods include better weather tolerance, adds the company; no longer would inspections have to be delayed due to poor lighting conditions, rain or snow.
GE scientists are also exploring other ways to take inspection technology to new heights. They are in the process of developing a microwave scanner that could be fitted onto the robotic vehicle, enabling an even better view of the wind blades. The use of microwaves would do more than provide a surface view; it would allow inspectors to see through the blade material giving an even earlier indication of any breakdown in the structure.