SheaRIOS is a solution for the Wind Turbine Blades (WTBs) inspection industry that enables easier, faster and more accurate inspection utilizing robotics and shearography, a high-quality method that is brought outside the laboratory for the first time. A deployment platform will ascend on the wind turbine tower and deploy a work climber on the base of the blade. The climber will move along the blade by means of air-suction and carry out inspection with a shearography kit on a cantilever. The deployment platform will also act as the power and data link, while the system will be safely controlled by the ground.
SheaRIOS team is the best it can. Operational modelling is done by EDF, the end-users that drive this Innovation Action. Preliminary testing and validation of the market-readiness of SheaRIOS will take place at their site. Three competitive small and mid-scale technology companies from three European countries will contribute enabling Europe to:
- integrate more wind power
- reduce operational costs,
- keep the technology lead, and
- remain a major exporter.
These are the targets for enabling wind to become the backbone of our electricity generation system.
The EU currently holds 40% of the global wind market, generating €67bn annual turnover and supporting over 250,000 jobs. But, as Wind Europe states, "we can't take this for granted, when China just in 2015 installed 63GW taking the lead”. In the coming years, China and India are expected to further invest in wind power. The Middle East and Africa follow and are projected to grow at a CAGR more than 43%.
The EU must strive even more to keep the desired lead in the wind industry. This race implies a great amount of Wind Turbine (WT) installations. Installations that wear rapidly because of large masses and stresses by wind gusts. Therefore, they continuously require maintenance and regular inspection. And out of the WT parts, blades (WTBs) are one of the most strained that calls for frequent maintenance and inspections.
Regulation authorities have recognized this and have forced strict maintenance policies; 3-4-month inspection intervals and 6-months maintenance intervals; still, incidents are not avoided. In fact, an average of 3,800 out of the blade failure incidents that are reported each year, are due to poor maintenance (representing 85% of the total) per CWIF. Considering that the cost of each blade failure ranges from €90,000 to €900,000 (with the highest reported reaching even €5.5M), preventive maintenance through more efficient (and perhaps more frequent) inspections is a necessity.
Inspections, however, require long downtimes. The wind turbine blades need to be dismantled in the case of ground inspection. Even in in-situ inspection, where trained inspectors are hanging from ropes on the wind turbine, the blades need to be stalled for a long period (4 to 6 days on average) as manual inspection is a tedious time-consuming work. These downtimes in their turn imply great profit losses that sum up with the inspection costs.
And downtime is only part of the problem. Blade failure does not only lead to greater costs doubling downtime and damaging other essential equipment, but a large portion of the accidents reported involve fatalities and an even larger portion involve human injuries. Indicatively, as stated by CWIF, 134 incidents with human injury and 115 fatal accidents counting 161 fatalities have been reported in the last decade alone. And as the number of installations increase so does the number of accidents. And this, unfortunately, is just the tip of the iceberg as CWIF estimates that only a small portion of the accidents are reported.
This has eventually led to a shortage of qualified staff (well trained technicians that is) in the NDT market. EWEA points out that a shortage of around 5,500 staff was noted in 2012 and it will climb to 28,000 by 2030. A solution to this problem is to utilize specially designed Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that can reach the blade and implement faster inspections on site. However, current systems are not very agile or cannot reach close enough to the blade to deploy a high-quality NDT technique. Hence, they are mostly used to carry out mere visual inspections. Consequently, there is not an integrated solution that offers a high inspection quality, human safe and efficient way of inspection.
The need for an automated inspection technique is more compelling than ever. As our end-users partners, EDF Renewables and EDF R&D, pointed out the industry asks for a hazardless, better quality, easier and faster inspection method to reduce the problems mentioned above. And although several different techniques (visual, thermography, acoustic emissions, ultrasound, etc.) that are currently employed lend themselves to automation, none is adequate; they are all missing crucial inspection aspects.