GE Global Research is exploring a technology that the company says will make the inspection of wind turbines faster and more reliable.
Usually, an inspector examines the massive turbine blades from the ground, about 100 meters 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 goal of the project 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 meters away, allowing for a more thorough examination and evaluation of their condition, the company explains.
The new technology was recently tested at a wind farm in Texas, and had positive results, according to GE.
Another advantage of using the climber over conventional methods is better weather tolerance – inspections will no longer have to be delayed due to poor lighting conditions, rain or snow.
GE scientists are 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 allow inspectors to see through the blade material, providing an earlier indication of any breakdown in the structure, the company explains. At GE's India Technology Center, scientists are also testing the use of small, helicopter-like vehicles that would provide for a similar view.