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Meet the robot that can help the wind industry solve critical maintenance issue

In a first of its kind demonstration, a six-legged robot has shown how it can inspect wind turbine bolts autonomously, eliminating the need for technicians to loosen and retighten thousands of bolts per wind turbine as part of routine maintenance.

Funded by Innovate UK and executed in collaboration with GE Renewable Energy and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, the project brought together BladeBUG and EchoBolt, both fast-growing UK SMEs with their own separate, well-established technologies.

The cost savings to the European onshore and offshore wind fleet could exceed £250 million per year, according to ORE Catapult.

It will also reduce time spent on maintenance, critical structural failures and extend turbine lifetimes at sea, all of which will be crucial as the European market looks set to accelerate its expansion as Russian fossil fuel imports reduce.

The robot successfully crawled the interior of ORE Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine in Fife, inspecting bolts to identify any loss of tension. The achievement could lead to the production of a predictive schedule for future operations, while also paving the way for the EchoBoltBUG to perform bolt checks autonomously.

Pete Andrews, EchoBolt’s founder, said: “The challenge of regularly retightening thousands of wind turbine bolts, that can weigh up to 20kg each, is the leading cause of scheduled downtime in the wind industry, and presents a number of significant health and safety challenges to operators.

“EchoBolt technology is actively supporting over 4GW of capacity in managing bolted joints through a condition-based approach, eliminating the requirement for time-based retightening.

“However, we are determined not to stand still and are passionate about remaining at the forefront of innovation in the sector. The opportunity to collaborate on the development of EchoBoltBUG has provided a fantastic demonstration of the pathway to an autonomous future for the wind industry.“

Andrew Macdonald, ORE Catapult’s Director of Offshore Wind Development and Operations, commented: “BladeBUG and EchoBolt are companies that came to us at the very start of their journeys and already had made spectacular innovative progress when they decided to team up on a new solution.

“Their separate technologies have completed multiple successful trials at our National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth and on our Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine. EchoBolt also tested its handheld ultrasonic inspection device on GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X turbine when it was undergoing trials with us.

“This collaboration provides them with an additional product to add to an impressive list of solutions. It also proves that a single platform, like BladeBUG, can go on to fulfil a wide variety of functions at a wind farm. This greatly strengthens the value of investment in robotic technologies and their offering to the market.

“The companies have enormous interest from the sector for their solutions. The contract wins and growth of their workforces attest to a spectacular British innovation story that will have multi-million-pound export value in the coming years.”

Chris Cieslak, founder of BladeBUG explained: “The demonstration proved the EchoBoltBUG is not only capable of performing a bolt check for any loss of tension, but doing it in a much more autonomous way.

“The idea of the robot independently checking a set of bolts, without assistance, is now a reality and takes maintenance of wind turbines to the next level by making them safer and more cost-effective for operators.”