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UK innovators develop robotic solution for turbine bolts

4C Offshore | Tom Russell
By: Tom Russell 26/05/2021 ORE Catapult

Two UK innovators have joined forces in a mission to develop a robotic solution for ensuring the integrity of the bolts that hold wind turbines together.

The new project, announced by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, brings together the six-legged BladeBUG inspect-and-repair robot for turbine blades and EchoBolt’s ultrasonic bolt inspection device. This collaboration, funded by Innovate UK, aims to expand BladeBUG’s capabilities, allowing the robot to crawl turbine structures and test bolt integrity using ultrasonics.

GE Renewable Energy, which plays a supporting role on the new project as technology advisor, estimates that the companies’ technology fusion will unlock cost savings of 75 per cent in bolt maintenance and repair bills. The potential market prize ahead of the solution’s developers is estimated at £150 million per year by 2030.

The technologies at the heart of this project were developed under previous projects funded by Innovate UK and in collaboration with ORE Catapult. BladeBUG’s crawling robot is designed to inspect and repairs blade surfaces. EchoBolt’s device can detect bolt tension using ultrasonics without the need for laborious loosening and retightening with hydraulic tools.

“As offshore renewables expand and these maintenance tasks become truly mammoth, robotics will be a vital part of the mix, and we see them both working autonomously and alongside offshore technicians,”
commented Peter MacDonald, Head of Engineering at ORE Catapult. “In addition, these solutions pave the way for remote operation from onshore control centres and cross-discipline job creation opportunities.”

BladeBUG has previously carried out demonstrations with the inspection of the blades of ORE Catapult’s Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine. The EchoBolt technology has previously  been tested through trials in bolt inspection at the same test turbine and on GE’s Haliade-X, the world’s biggest offshore wind turbine nacelle.

“The speed and efficiency of the solution convinced GE Renewable Energy to back the new project”,
said Anthony Gordon, Programme Manager at GE Renewable Energy: “These are two highly disruptive technologies that have emerged from the UK supply chain and hold great promise. Future offshore working must be ever more smart, safe and efficient. That is why we are keen to support these developers in reaching the full potential of their solutions”.

BladeBUG’s Chris Cieslak said: “Incorporating EchoBolt’s existing and proven tools with our robotic platform to bring a robotic bolt inspection option to the offshore wind maintenance market is a promising and ingenious development.  Beyond the collaboration with EchoBolt, we continue to refine our robot’s repair and maintenance capabilities by adding additional tools and functionality, which will drive down operating costs and offer new opportunities for technicians across the offshore wind sector.”

EchoBolt’s Peter Andrews concluded: “Having proven the capabilities of our bolt inspection system we are now actively supporting turbine operators deploying cost-efficient, condition-based integrity management practices. However, we are determined not to stand still and are passionate about remaining at the forefront of innovation in the sector. This technology partnership with BladeBUG will provide a fantastic demonstration of the pathway to an autonomous future for the wind industry.”


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