UAVs for wind turbine inspection
Inspection is an essential aspect of operations and maintenance (O&M) in many industrial settings, and inspection in the Energy sector presents some particularly unique challenges. Wind turbines can be up to 250m high with blades reaching over 100m in length1 and, by their very nature, are often in remote and wind-swept locations.
Assessing each turbine within an on- or offshore wind farm using the traditional methods of ropes or elevated platforms is both dangerous and hugely time-consuming, and those factors together make it expensive. Cameras on the ground can be used for visual inspection, but errors can easily be missed. Remote controlled UAVs are transforming the inspection process as they are able to perform accurate inspections much more quickly and safely.
The environmental conditions for these inspection drones present multiple challenges. Extremes of temperature, high levels of dust in arid regions and high salinity in offshore installations all mean that UAVs must be ruggedly built and rigorously tested before being deployed. Add to that the high winds and huge turbulence created by the massive blades, and it’s clear that drone operation and communication are likely to be tested to the limit.
Batteries for UAVs must be reliable and lightweight and there’s a happy medium to find in terms of balancing this power to weight ratio. Longer flights are more cost-effective than multiple, shorter ones so it’s important to get the right power supply. Similarly, communication between the vehicle and the controller, or even between multiple drones, is paramount but a drone must remain aerodynamic and agile without being restrained by protruding antennas. Transmission must be able to navigate around obstacles and through turbulent air flows. Video and image capture needs to be high-resolution and easy to process. Technicians will find themselves with thousands of images and hours of video to monitor, and machine learning techniques and developments in AI are helping to accurately identify flaws, oil leaks and damage to the turbines faster and more reliably than the human eye.
Of course, UAVS designed for inspection of wind turbines will also be suited to other Energy processes such as surveying dams providing hydroelectric power and examining vast areas of solar panels, where similar difficulties arise.
Our battery experts have decades of experience in designing and building battery packs for challenging applications. Inspection drones have very specific requirements and our team will advise designers on the best size, shape and performance options, whether that’s using Lithium-ion based cells or alternative chemistries. Furthermore, Steatite manufactures and supplies custom Battery Management Systems (BMS) which optimise the lifetime and performance of any battery pack as well as keeping the pack safe.
Steatite’s Communications business unit provides market-leading wireless RF Unmanned Communication solutions which are ideal for ground-to-air contact and control. Based on the functional MPU5 radio unit, the Embedded Module provides built-in HD video encoding, Ethernet, RS-232 over IP, range extension, and an extremely high throughput Mobile ad hoc network (MANET) to make sure operators have secure, consistent and practical communication with their UAV.
For compact and powerful image capture and transmission, our imaging subsidiary, Active Silicon, has a range of autofocus-zoom cameras and versatile camera interface boards which makes imaging simple. Cameras and processor boards can output in several formats including HD-SDI, USB3, HDMI and Ethernet IP meaning image data can be processed by a wider range of software.