Climbing the tower for inspection of blades in wind turbines is a time-consuming and potentially dangerous task. Recent advances in aviation are gradually transforming such dangerous maintenance work into a safer, more precise and aerodynamic process. Investments in the drone inspection sector have begun to be made by large wind turbine companies to manage processes faster and safer.
Windlar, a drone inspection company founded with the support of Tübitak, is one of the companies that provides service to report turbine blade damage data using autonomous drone technology.
Unmanned aerial vehicles provide many advantages for wind turbine inspection. Before all, comes the security. Using a drone for wing controls is safer than a rope access method at high altitudes, high winds, and for extended periods of time. This type of manual inspection can take a full day for a single tower and months for a full plant.
When examining wind turbine blades with a drone, the pilot must have flight experience and provide the necessary certifications. Due to the difficulties of the inspection environment at the wind turbine sites, the wind speed and direction can change rapidly unexpectedly due to the interaction of the turbine structure with the wind while the pilot is flying around the turbine blades. This makes manual drone flights extremely difficult and dangerous.
For example, wing and tower lengths can reach high and it can be difficult to get an accurate idea of how far a drone is horizontally from the wings. Continuous looking up during drone inspection can cause pilot fatigue. Losing the drone’s view even for a moment while in flight can cause damage to the turbine.
To address many of these problems, Windlar developed an autonomous flight inspection system that preserves the drone’s current position using precise location and imaging as it hovers around a turbine. In this case, the pilot is acting as a backup player who ensures safety during autonomous flight. The autonomous drone’s built-in sensors make more accurate decisions than a pilot standing under the tower. It can continuously analyze its position relative to the turbine by calculating changes in wind conditions.
Autonomous drone inspection enables customers to identify problem areas faster and optimize repair schedules and costs more accurately. Not only is it faster, but it also offers scalable and repeatable data, giving a wind turbine operator the opportunity to anticipate on-site problems and direct repair teams before a small problem causes greater damage. This contributes to higher efficiency in power generation and a reduction in total operating and maintenance costs over the life of the turbine.