A Step-by-Step Guide to Reducing Risk and Repair Costs for Wind Turbine Blade Inspections

A Step-by-Step Guide to Reducing Risk and Repair Costs for Wind Turbine Blade Inspections

11 Jun 2024 Written by Naomi Stol Zamir

Wind turbines are pivotal in the global shift to renewable energy. However, maintaining these massive structures with critical moving parts involves significant risks and costs. Without proper management, your wind farm may struggle with profitability and workforce safety.

A study found 249 severe accidents, including 161 fatal ones, related to manual turbine inspections over the past decade. As manual inspections increase, so do severe accidents. Fortunately, advancements in technology have led to the development of autonomous drones capable of handling every wind turbine blade inspection, dramatically reducing risks to personnel and managing repair costs more effectively.

Traditional methods like rope or crane inspections required turbines to be offline for days, posed significant risks to technicians, and often produced inconsistent results. Autonomous drone inspections, however, take under an hour, significantly reducing downtime and lost revenue. These drones quickly identify critical defects, allowing for prompt repairs while keeping technicians safely on the ground. The consistent data captured ensures accurate comparisons across the entire wind farm.

Drone inspections are now the standard for wind turbine maintenance. They are easy to implement and use, significantly reducing inspection costs and risks while providing fast, safe, and efficient turbine maintenance.


Step-by-Step Guide to Implementing Autonomous Blade Inspection Technology

Adopting autonomous drone technology is vital for ensuring optimal turbine performance and operational efficiency. 

These technologies are the new standard in wind farm management, and upgrading your processes doesn’t mean frustrating implementation — the entire process is straightforward and easy to manage. 

So, let’s go through the process to help you get started and demonstrate the simplicity of implementation.


Step 1: Assessing Current Inspection Processes

The process begins by evaluating your current inspection methods while focusing on limitations. A few questions to ask include:

  • Are you handling them in-house or through a third party? 
  • Have any accidents occurred during inspections?
  • Are issues found soon after they occur or after they’ve worsened?
  • What is the average amount of downtime for routine inspections?
  • How quickly can your teams conduct inspections during unplanned downtime?


Once you understand the current state of inspections, you can drill down into your needs. For example, you may need to reduce extensive downtime or improve worker safety if there’s a history of accidents.

You’re then ready to start crafting your new inspection processes, focusing on current limitations and specific needs.


Step 2: Choosing the Right Drone Technology

Autonomous drone inspections require hardware and software offered by different vendors. The right commercial hardware allows you to customize everything from data capture capabilities to autonomous software.

For example, the Mavic 3 Enterprise demonstrates how to tailor your drone fleet to meet your specific use case, which can vary significantly by industry. The Mavic 3 and other similar commercial drones will work with autonomous software to unlock the specific capabilities you need.

Choosing the right drones and AI-driven software should focus on technology scalability, data accuracy, and ease of use. Evaluate different options, relate them to your inspection needs, and double-check compatibility before moving forward.


Step 3: Developing an Effective Inspection Schedule

Legacy methods were often conducted annually, leaving issues to escalate in severity until they were found and repaired. With automated inspections, you can conduct inspections more frequently to stay on top of issues and ad hoc following any anomaly detection or damage.

Create an inspection timetable for your assets based on known blade conditions, turbine age, and environmental factors. Depending on your wind farm’s size, not every turbine is subjected to the same weather conditions equally, so those subjected to more intense conditions should take priority.

Conducting more frequent external inspections can inform when it’s time for an internal blade inspection, maintenance schedules, and any unexpected repairs. Tackling maintenance and repair tasks before these issues escalate can significantly reduce repair costs, which can be made possible by identifying them with frequent drone inspections.


Step 4: Implementing Autonomous Inspection Techniques and Technologies

Drones can be equipped with next-gen high-resolution cameras to capture detailed blade analysis data highlighting any wear and tear, damage, or other issues needing follow-up repairs. All while technicians are safely on the ground.

This hardware can become even more powerful by leveraging AI to detect and categorize anomalies accurately. Technicians can then benefit from the head start given by this software so they can start evaluating the high-priority issues first.


Step 5: Integrating Inspections into Maintenance Operations

Your existing maintenance operations don’t need to be thrown out and rebuilt from scratch. Instead, inspection processes can be incorporated into existing operations. 

Map out your existing maintenance schedules and find any areas where drone inspections can replace or enhance specific processes. Once found, start experimenting with integrating drones and the data they produce in a small amount of the total workload. Then, evaluate results, make adjustments, and conduct phased implementation until fully deployed.

Collaborating between in-house teams and technology providers, such as vHive, to help identify specific ways to integrate and improve inspections into your maintenance operations. Combined, you’ll be able to streamline operations with minimal friction.


Step 6: Analyzing Inspection Data for Proactive Maintenance

Drone inspections immediately reduce downtime, increase safety, and pave the way for a more profitable operation. 

However, the data captured during these inspections must be analyzed using the right tools to fully interpret inspection results — leading to proactive or predictive maintenance scheduling that further reduces repair costs.

Data captured from inspections combined with the right data analysis platform can extend the cost-reduction benefits of maintenance and repairs. Leverage these insights to prioritize repairs, schedule maintenance tasks proactively, and minimize downtime. 


Adopt the Right Technologies to Reduce Hazards and Expenses

Integrating autonomous turbine inspection technologies allows technicians to remain on the ground, reducing risks associated with legacy inspection methods. These technologies are easy to implement into your workflows and can be used with minimal training. 

You’ll create more efficient and effective inspections, with turbines being taken offline for half an hour rather than several days. As a result, you can conduct more frequent wind turbine blade inspections to stay on top of wear and tear and implement repairs before they escalate in severity and costs. 

The new standard for inspections is autonomous drones and supporting technologies. The days of requiring technicians to scale towers with ropes or cranes for every inspection are long gone — now, you can create significantly safer working conditions while producing more accurate, actionable results.

vHive offers a leading-edge autonomous drone inspection platform that enables rapid, intelligent inspections with off-the-shelf drones. Captured data creates a robust asset portfolio to stay on top of repair costs while keeping your teams safely on the ground.


Ready to adopt the new standard in wind turbine blade inspections? Book a demo today to learn more about how vHive can reduce risks and costs while enhancing operational efficiency.

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