Wind Farm Drone Inspection

What is Wind Farm Drone Inspection?

Wind farm drone inspections are using drones to inspect wind turbines to create a safer and more efficient method than traditional methods. 

Drones used for these inspections are equipped with high-definition and possibly thermal imaging cameras to capture detailed images of the structure, blades, and nacelle while in flight. Technicians will collect more data, decrease the amount of time spent on inspections, and avoid the risk of traditional inspection methods.

You can take the wealth of data even further as you build a digital wind farm. A platform like vHive also allows you to use drones to create a digital twin of your entire operation to grant deeper insights into the current state of your wind farm.

How Are Wind Farms Inspected with Drones?

Inspecting wind farms with drones involves a series of steps that may look different depending on your drones, autonomous software, and inspection processes. However, a typical wind farm inspection might include the following steps:

  1. Plan the inspections ahead of time, including estimated downtime and drone flight paths. Additionally, it’s essential to understand any aerial flight regulations in your area before getting started. 
  2. Ensure the drones are in working order, including battery life, camera functionality, and capability to resist wind conditions.
  3. Arrive at the location and launch the drones from a safe location. Autonomous drones can typically self-launch. 
  4. Capture the correct data with high-resolution videos and photos.
  5. Upload the data to the cloud.
  6. Before leaving the site, make sure all inspection data was captured for future analysis.
  7. Analyze data once the inspection is complete, allowing technicians to conduct several inspections sequentially without needing to analyze results on the spot.
  8. Recommend any follow-up actions for wind farm turbine maintenance to prevent unplanned downtime.

You can see how the above process can be conducted much faster than traditional rope inspections, which have the same goal but require technicians to scale the entire turbine.

Benefits of Wind Turbine Drone Inspection

Why should wind farms migrate to drone inspections from traditional methods? Adopting manual or autonomous drones for inspecting wind farm assets brings a range of benefits that help the entire operation. So, let’s break down some of the top benefits of adopting wind turbine drone inspections.

1. Increased Inspection Frequency

Inspecting wind farms is a core process in wind farm management, but if inspections rely on climbing the turbine, they end up being less frequent since rope inspections are time-consuming.

When drones handle the inspections, the process becomes much faster. As a result, it’s easier to increase inspection frequency to stay on top of any wear and tear while also identifying any damage sooner rather than later.

You’ll be able to build informed maintenance schedules that keep operational, minimize output degradation, and extend their overall lifespan.

2. Reduces Risk

Traditionally, turbine inspections were conducted with rope inspections, which involves requiring technicians to scale to conduct inspections. This process invites a significant amount of risk, as a number of issues can have severe consequences.

Opting for drone inspections over rope inspections removes the hazard of requiring technicians to climb the outside of the tower. Instead, drones can be manually piloted or equipped with autonomous technology to carry out the inspections safely from the ground. 

Technicians can stay on the ground while still inspecting the required components. Your personnel will still be able to have the same or better thoroughness without the risk.

3. Cuts Inspection Costs

Managing operating expenses is a core component of building a profitable business. Drone inspections are more cost-effective than traditional inspections for a few reasons, such as:

  • Less technician time for each inspection, creating cost savings in reducing labor costs and saving site visits.
  • Maintaining drones is typically less expensive than maintaining the critical equipment for rope inspections.
  • Minimizes the lost revenue from the necessary downtime.

You may have upfront costs to buy drones and the right software, but you’ll quickly start to realize the cost-cutting aspects of migrating to drone inspections.

4. Decreases Downtime

Technicians need to bring the turbine offline to conduct inspections, regardless of the chosen method. The turbine won’t be producing any energy while being inspected, which decreases the output of the entire farm.

Migrating to drone inspections significantly decreases the amount of downtime. Instead of a complete shutdown, while technicians scale the tower, all that’s needed is drones to capture data in a comparatively short period. Technicians can move on to the next task, and the turbine can start generating energy again.

5. Captures High-Quality Data

Drones are capable of capturing high-quality data throughout the inspection process. Data can include HD videos, photos, or thermal imaging. Drones can capture this data from a variety of angles and perspectives. 

The amount and quality of captured data allow for technicians and engineers to more accurately assess the current state of the turbine. Maintenance can be scheduled, with some tools using this data for predictive maintenance.