Drones attracting increasing market attention

WORLDWIDE: Siemens has signed a collaborative agreement with a US drone firm to develop turbine inspections as interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) grows.

Many of the industry's major players are looking more closely at drone technology
Many of the industry's major players are looking more closely at drone technology

Siemens will work with SkySpecs to "develop a push-button inspection system that is faster, repeatable and more efficient than existing methods," the US firm said.

SkySpecs, launched in 2012, said the German turbine manufacturer will help "refine its technology for utility-scale wind turbine inspections and prepare it for commercial readiness".

Using drones for checks is expected to create a number of costs savings, as it removes the need for an engineer to work at height on ropes. Drones can also examine turbines in more detail than ground-based inspections.

"The autonomous drone technology supports our [digitalisation] initiative in generating high quality field data about the condition of our wind turbines. This is particularly valuable for our offshore business, where completing inspections quickly, safely and cost effectively is of critical importance," said Siemens Wind chief technology officer Ruediger Knauf.

SkySpecs is hoping to develop a fully automated drone check. "The baseline solution allows drones to take off, capture high-resolution images of all four sides of each blade, return and land in under 15 minutes. The blades do not need to be stopped in any particular orientation," the company explained.

Offshore application

The use of drones has already been demonstrated earlier this month by offshore wind project developer and operator Innogy.

In early February, the German firm said it used drones for the first time to check on the blades at its Nord See Ost offshore wind project.

"If an expert is close to the blade and can directly see it at close range, this is, of course, the best option. However, the rope-assisted inspection is very complex," said Wolf Kind, senior asset integrity manager for the Nordsee Ost project.

"With the drone, we are hoping for time savings and thus a lower production loss," Kind added.

Drones are seeing increasing attention from the wind industry, with some major players taking a close look.

In September, German manufacturer Nordex signed a drone partnership deal with aviation firm Lufthansa Aerial Services to inspect its turbine fleet.

And in October, Danish developer Dong Energy helped fund a trial in to use drones for bird assessment programmes.

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