January 30, 2009 Wind turbines, predominantly constructed from glass fiber reinforced plastics, are vulnerable to fractures and flaws that can be impossible for the human eye to detect - and even the cracks visible to humans can often only be spotted in a time-consuming and dangerous examination. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute say that their latest robot creation, RIWEA, can solve both problems to increase the overall efficiency of the wind energy system.

RIWEA (Robot Inspects Wind Energy Converters) autonomously ascends the towers to inspect the rotor blades for damage. It uses an infrared radiator to heat the rotor blade surface, and then records the temperature pattern with a high-resolution thermal camera. The resulting image pinpoints flaws in the material, and damage below the surface of the blades is exposed by RIWEA’s ultrasonic system. While the bot examines the rotor blades, a carrier system ensures it maintains a precise track. The robot’s method of climbing ensures its compatibility with wind turbines of all shapes and sizes.

“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.”

“It is a highly complex platform with sixteen degrees of freedom, which can autonomously pull itself up ropes,” says Elkmann.

Kyle Sherer

Via Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF.