Siemens is collaborating with U.S.-based company SkySpecs to deploy automated drone technology for onshore and offshore wind-turbine inspections. The goal is to develop a push-button inspection system that is faster, repeatable, and more efficient than existing methods.
Siemens is involving its Wind Power business and its next47 venture unit, which was established in October 2016 to accelerate the development of new technologies. SkySpecs, founded in 2012, is the first company to successfully demonstrate fully autonomous wind-turbine inspections.
According to SkySpecs, smaller and more powerful computing platforms and sensors, better battery technology, and vastly improved algorithms for managing flight and safety have transformed drones from a niche hobby into a global reality over the last three to five years.
Drones have become essential tools for businesses spanning every industry, from delivery to industrial inspection. Where drones have historically required a professional pilot, the latest-generation are flying with increased autonomy.
By using proprietary software and best-in-class, off-the-shelf hardware, the company’s goal is to provide an end-to-end solution that includes data collection, damage identification, classification, and recommendations. SkySpecs’ technology solves one of the top challenges that industrial asset owners and service providers face: generating timely, precise and easy-to-consume inspection data, while simultaneously minimizing downtime and personnel-related expenses.
Siemens is collaborating with SkySpecs to refine its technology for utility-scale turbine inspections and prepare it for commercial readiness. The joint effort will enable Siemens to incorporate more advanced preventive maintenance techniques using SkySpecs’ technology.It will also provide significant data that can be used to inform customers about the lifespan of their asset(s) or to gain insights into contributing causes of eventual failures. Automated inspections will lower operating costs substantially and potentially increase the efficiency and lifespan of wind turbines – outcomes to which both Siemens and SkySpecs are deeply committed.
“The autonomous drone technology supports our ‘Digitalization@Wind’ initiative in generating high-quality field data about the condition of our wind turbines,” said Ruediger Knauf, Siemens Wind Power Chief Technology Officer. “This is particularly valuable for our offshore business, where completing inspections quickly, safely, and cost-effectively is of critical importance.”
Knauf added: “Siemens Wind Power and SkySpecs can mutually benefit from this collaboration via next47, in sharing and co-developing technology and expertise. I am confident that we can bring blade inspection to the next level.”
SkySpecs’ blade inspections are automated from start to finish, minimizing the need to allocate highly trained – and therefore expensive – human resources to the job. 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 captured data is uploaded to the cloud where it can be analyzed, annotated, and shared.
Data inspection and report generation are completed in a fraction of the time it takes to conduct ground-based or rope inspections. Automation offers the flexibility to conduct inspections on-demand rather and at set intervals. Every image is tagged with the data that customers need to locate, annotate, and make decisions about timing of blade repairs.
Precise, accurate data location provides a clear benchmark and a digital timeline of damage progression.
“We have been working with customers and partners in the wind-energy industry to develop the most effortless and technologically sophisticated – yet fully automated – solution on the market,” said SkySpecs CEO, Danny Ellis. “Siemens Wind Power is motivated to improve turbine inspection technology, including data collection and analysis, and have provided us access to their deep resources and expertise.
“Siemens has an incredibly impressive understanding of both the wind energy markets and autonomous technology, making our partnership a true win-win.”
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