GE Global Research is advancing technology that will make the inspection of wind turbines faster and more reliable for customers.
Currently, an inspector examines the massive turbine blades from the ground, about 100 m away, by using a high-power telescope. Now, 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 10 m away, allowing for a more thorough examination and evaluation of their condition.
“Technology advances have helped to make GE’s wind turbine fleet the most reliable in the industry; we’re always looking for ways to strengthen this record. One way we can is by enabling more reliable inspections that can detect and mitigate potential issues even earlier,” says Waseem Faidi, Manager of the Nondestructive Evaluation Lab at GE Global Research.
Faidi continued, “The inspection technology platform GE is developing with ICM provides a closer view of the turbine blade to detect repair and service needs. 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.”
GE is one of the world’s largest suppliers of wind turbines with a fleet of 18,000 turbines worldwide. Accurate and reliable servicing is critically important and GE’s suite of service offerings help owners and operators maximize both reliability and availability. GE more than doubled its investment in services research and development in 2010 and 2011 as it built a world-class portfolio of services. GE’s wind services solutions incorporate the company’s advanced technology, global resources and services facilities and a network of skilled, highly trained local technicians who are closely connected to GE’s engineering organization.
This new technology was recently tested at a wind farm in Texas with positive results. Other advantages to using the climber over conventional methods include better weather tolerance. 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. At GE’s India Technology Center, scientists are also testing the use of small, helicopter-like vehicles that would provide for a similar view.