6 Steps to Successfully Transition to In-House Wind Turbine Inspections

6 Steps to Successfully Transition to In-House Wind Turbine Inspections

10 Apr 2024 Written by Naomi Stol Zamir

Wind turbine inspections are necessary for any wind farm as they identify any issues, ranging from expected wear to unexpected damage, and schedule repairs and maintenance. However, when relying on vendors and legacy methods, inspections can be costly and ineffective in extending turbine lifespans. 

One study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that the global wind turbine blade inspection market size had a market cap of US$319.27 in 2022 and is projected to reach $601.47 million by 2030 — nearly doubling in 8 years. The study concluded that turbine inspections and maintenance are vital for lifetime extension.

The significant growth of turbine blade inspection services and solutions is due to the component’s wear and tear, potential damage, and importance. To keep everything running smoothly, a blade inspection must be conducted frequently or following suspected damage.

You know why you need them, but how can you enable faster, more cost-effective wind turbine inspections? Transitioning to in-house processes, rather than hiring a third party, will go far — and autonomous drone inspections make it easier than ever to develop an in-house drone inspections program. 

You’ll be able to reduce turbine inspection costs while increasing the speed and frequency of inspections. So, keep reading as we break down the overarching steps to help you transition from costly, annual third-party inspections to cost-effective, agile, in-house drone inspections.

Step-by-Step Guide to Transitioning to In-House Wind Turbine Drone Inspection

Moving away from third-party inspections for in-house inspections might seem daunting. While the transition will require upfront investment and training, current technologies have made it easier than ever to save money, reduce inspection downtime, and increase effectiveness.

Let’s break down how you can start transitioning to entirely in-house inspections powered by autonomous drones.

Step 1: Assessing Current Capabilities

The process begins by evaluating your current inspection processes to identify strengths and gaps. If you’re currently relying entirely on third-party services, you’ll have a significant gap to cross as you move in-house. If you already have some in-house inspection processes, then the challenge becomes solving any challenges to upgrade to autonomous drones. 

What are your specific wind farm inspection needs? What types of issues do you commonly run into that create unplanned downtime or necessitate ad hoc inspections?

Document these issues to keep the focus on achieving business objectives as you make various decisions.

Step 2: Acquiring the Right Technology

In-housing your drone inspections requires the right technologies to power your new processes. Consider scalability and future needs as you explore solutions as they become ingrained in your new inspections.

Drones are at the heart of your new processes, so explore different options designed to withstand strong wind conditions and provide the necessary data capture capabilities. An ideal solution is agnostic so that it can work with purpose-built software, and multiple drone types should be available from the manufacturer.

The Mavic 3 Enterprise is a strong example of a versatile commercial drone designed to be tailored to business’ specific needs, which vary across industries. While not the only option, it’s a good place to start so you can compare other options.

The other piece of the technology puzzle is the software that unlocks autonomous drone inspections from your chosen hardware. vHive specializes in enterprise inspection software, but it’s best to assess and evaluate several solutions before you decide. 

Step 3: Training and Skilling Your Team

You’ll need personnel to conduct the inspections, which requires upskilling current employees or hiring specialists. Keep in mind that the skill aspect of autonomous drone inspections is marginal compared to manual drone inspections that require highly skilled pilots.

With autonomous drones, you need field technicians with expertise in wind turbines and minimal training in operating the actual drone, thanks to autonomous technologies. You can provide wind turbine drone inspection training in a relatively short amount of time, and technicians will be ready to go.

Another cost-effective aspect of this, is that you probably won’t need to hire new talent, considering there is no requirement for highly-skilled pilots, only train your existing staff.

Additionally, keep in mind compliance and regulatory requirements when it comes to technicians’ safety while conducting inspections. Drone flights are also subject to regulations in most jurisdictions, and you’ll likely have other considerations that will inform how technicians conduct inspections.

Step 4: Integration into Current Operations

Integrating drone surveys into your existing maintenance schedules requires careful planning and execution. Here are some strategies to help you seamlessly incorporate autonomous drone inspections into your operations: 

  • Strategize the Integration Process: Map out current maintenance schedules and identify where drone inspections can replace or supplement existing methods.
  • Phased Implementation: Start with specific inspections or areas and expand gradually, allowing for testing and adjustments.
  • Develop SOPs: Create standard operating procedures for drone inspections to ensure consistency and quality.
  • Collaborate with Technology Providers: Work with technology providers, like vHive, to tailor solutions, integrate software, and ensure seamless data flow.
  • Maintain Communication and Feedback: Establish feedback loops for continuous improvement and address any challenges promptly.
  • Monitor and Adjust: Track the impact on maintenance operations and be ready to optimize performance as needed.

Step 5: Pilot Testing and Refinement

Before fully implementing new processes, take the time to pilot testing initial strategies and refine them based on feedback. Technicians may identify issues with the chosen technology solutions, you may not choose the most optimal downtime for inspections, and several other possible issues need to be resolved before going forward.

Beyond solving problems, look for ways to tweak processes that are working so they can work more effectively. Keep refining until an individual inspection is conducted rapidly and produces the necessary data for maintenance scheduling.

Step 6: Full-scale Implementation

Once you can conduct a single inspection within the right time frame and it produces the necessary results, it’s time to roll out full implementation. Depending on the size of your wind farm, it’s likely wise to do a phased roll out rather than all at once. You’ll be able to tackle any issues and ensure a smooth transition to the new workflows.

  • Upgrade All Inspections: Transition all inspections to the new autonomous drone processes. This may involve ending relationships with third-party providers or upgrading from manually piloted drones.
  • Choose User-Friendly Solutions: Select technologies that are easy to use and facilitate seamless data sharing across teams. The right solutions will simplify the transition and enhance collaboration.
  • Monitor and Manage: Continuously track performance metrics during the rollout. Be proactive in making adjustments to optimize workflows and address any issues that arise.

Common Challenges and Solutions to Be Aware Of

Any initiative that changes a core organizational process will have some challenges, but in this case, each challenge will also have a solution, including:

  • Initial investment costs: 

You’ll have to incur the upfront cost of purchasing drones and related technology, which can be a significant barrier to transitioning to in-house services.

  • Solution: Earn stakeholder buy-in by highlighting long-term savings compared to existing ongoing third-party service fees.
  • Training and skilling staff: 

Depending on your chosen solutions, existing staff may not have the necessary skills to operate advanced drone technology.

  • Solution: Choose a partner with easy-to-use autonomous software. Learning how to use vHive-powered drones requires minimal training.
  • Regulatory compliance and safety: 

Aviation regulations regarding drone operations can be complex, as you may have to deal with local and federal requirements. 

  • Solution: Staying aware of regulations may be sufficient, depending on your specific needs. Otherwise, you can hire consultants or compliance experts to make sure all operations are safe and compliant.
  • Integration with existing processes: 

You may have issues integrating with current procedures, processes, or technologies, as existing complexities may need to be revisited.

  • Solution: Rope in every department involved in turbine maintenance early on to ensure their processes and technologies are considered.
  • Data management and analysis: 

Once deployed, you’ll be collecting a high volume of data that likely goes beyond the scope of existing data management processes.

  • Solution: Invest in the right data analysis and management software that keeps compliance in mind.
  • Reliability and maintenance of drones: 

Integrating drones into your workflows means adding new equipment to the operation that must be maintained to protect their reliability. 

  • Solution: Establish a routine for drone maintenance and train staff for basic drone maintenance processes. It’s also wise to keep spare parts in stock to avoid delays.
  • Change resistance: 

It’s common for personnel to resist change, even in tech-driven industries like wind energy. 

  • Solution: Communicate benefits early on, both for employees and the company overall, to increase buy-in and enthusiasm.

Overcoming these challenges will be much easier if you know them before they happen. 

Team Up with vHive for Rapid Autonomous Drone Inspections

You’ll start reaping the rewards immediately after you’ve migrated to in-house inspections powered by autonomous drones — and your new processes will have a long-term impact that will help build a leaner, more profitable wind farm.

You’ll experience far-reaching cost savings, have greater control over extending the lifespan of your turbines, and enhance inspection efficiency. 

Adopting autonomous drone inspections coupled with a digital twin solution can take these benefits even further by putting inspection data to work well beyond its initial use — such as advanced wind turbine condition monitoring in between inspections.

vHive is an industry leader in autonomous drone software that’s ready to work with most off-the-shelf drones. Ready to take the first step in upgrading to efficient, in house inspections? Book a demo with our experts today.

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