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Global Bioenergy Industry News

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
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Robot Inspects Wind Turbines

GERMANY - A robot has been developed to inspect wind turbines more precisely than a human to detect the smallest amount of damage – even below the surface.

The robot pulls itself up a rope automatically until it reaches a wind turbine's giant rotor blades.

It then thoroughly inspects every centimetre of the rotor blades’ surface and registers any crack and any delamination in the material and transmits their exact positions.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Germany are experts in robotics – regardless of whether it is to clean facades, inspect sewer lines or assist humans.

Their latest helper is RIWEA, the robot that inspects the rotor blades of wind turbines.

Primarily made of glass fibre reinforced plastics, rotor blades have to withstand a great deal: wind, inertial forces and erosion.

And until now, humans have inspected the turbines at regular intervals which is not an easy job because of the size and the height of the blades.

"Our robot is not just a good climber," says Dr Norbert Elkmann, Project Manager am Fraunhofer IFF and coordinator of the joint project.

"It is equipped with a number of advanced sensor systems. This enables it to inspect rotor blades closely."

The inspection system consists of three elements: an infrared radiator conducts heat to the surface of the rotor blades and a high-resolution thermal camera records the temperature pattern and thus registers flaws in the material. In addition, an ultrasonic system and a high resolution camera are also on board, thus enabling the robot to also detect damage that would remain hidden to the human eye.

A specially developed carrier system ensures that the inspection robot is guided securely and precisely along the surface of a rotor blade.

"It is a highly complex platform with 16 degrees of freedom, which can automatically pull itself up ropes," said Dr Elkmann.

The robot can work on any wind turbine – regardless of whether it is large or small, on land or offshore. The robot always delivers an exact log of the rotor blades' condition.

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