by Kristen Meub, photo by Randy Montoya
Sandia’s crawling robots, drones detect damage to save wind blades
Drones and crawling robots outfitted with special scanning technology could help wind blades stay in service longer, which may help lower the cost of wind energy at a time when blades are getting bigger, pricier and harder to transport, Sandia National Laboratories researchers say.
As part of the Department of Energy’s Blade Reliability Collaborative work, funded by the Wind Energy Technologies Office, Sandia researchers partnered with energy businesses to develop machines that noninvasively inspect wind blades for hidden damage while being faster and more detailed than traditional inspections with cameras.
“Wind blades are the largest single-piece composite structures built in the world — even bigger than any airplane, and they often get put on machines in remote locations,” says Joshua Paquette, a mechanical engineer in Sandia’s wind energy program. “A blade is subject to lightning, hail, rain, humidity and other forces while running through a billion load cycles during its lifetime, but you can’t just land it in a hanger for maintenance.”
Routine inspection and repair, though, is critical to keeping these megablades in service, Paquette says. However, current inspection methods don’t always catch damage soon enough.
Sandia is drawing on expertise from avionics and robotics research to change that. By catching damage before it becomes visible, smaller and cheaper repairs can fix the blade and extend its service life, he says.
Learn more about the research and related technology via the complete news release.