GE Global Research announced last week that it is useing machine-to-machine (M2M ) technology to inspection wind turbines faster and in a more reliable way.
Currently, an inspector examines the massive turbine blades of turbines from the ground, about 100 meters (328’) away, by using a high-power telescope. Now, partnering with International Climbing Machines (Ithaca, N.Y., USA), GE Energy  (Atlanta, Ga., USA) engineers have come up with a way to do the work using a remote-controlled, robotic device that can scale the wind tower with a wireless, high-definition video camera strapped to its back.
The motivation for the closer inspection is to obtain a more accurate picture of the overall health of the wind turbine blades. From the ground, an inspector would have a real-time view of the blades from less than 10 meters (33’) away, allowing for a more thorough examination and evaluation of their condition.
“The inspection technology platform GE is developing with ICM provides a closer view of the turbine blade to detect repair and service needs,” says Waseem Faidi, Manager of the Nondestructive Evaluation Lab at GE Global Research. “And in the future, GE researchers are working on technology that will allow inspectors to see through the blade materials and identify potential issues well in advance of any service needs. This all will mean faster diagnosis and repair – minimizing the risk of failure or forced down-time of the turbine.”
Other advantages to using the climber over conventional methods include better weather tolerance. No longer would inspections have to be delayed due to poor lighting conditions, rain, or snow.
GE scientists are also in the process of developing a microwave scanner that could be fitted onto the robotic vehicle, enabling an even better view of the wind blades. The use of microwaves would allow inspectors to see through the blade material giving an even earlier indication of any breakdown in the structure. At GE’s India Technology Center, scientists are also testing the use of small, helicopter-like vehicles that would provide for a similar view.
GE has a fleet of 18,000 turbines worldwide, and has more than doubled its investment in services research and development in 2010 and 2011 as it built a portfolio of services.