​​​​​​​SpectX - Smart and complete inspection with drones

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TKI Wind op Zee

SpectX has developed a non-destructive inspection technique for wind turbines that can use drones to detect damage both on the outside and in the composite material itself. “As wind turbines are installed further from shore, in deeper water and with more wind, inspection and maintenance activities are becoming more expensive,” said Akhilesh Goveas.

SpectX makes the dangerous, time-consuming and expensive inspection work of technicians on cables superfluous. Although the drones that have been used for inspections so far are fast, they can only detect damage on the outside. The SpectX system is able to detect defects that are not visible from the outside. It is precisely these invisible defects in the material itself that are the main cause of long-term failure.

The crux of this innovation lies in the use of multiple drones that detect interference with digital radiography. These drones are synchronized to the millimeter. The portable digital radiography system consists of the combination of an X-ray source (X-ray) mounted on one drone and a detector on the other drone. The precise positioning and synchronization is based on GPS and LiDAR techniques and a dynamic reference beacon.

The drones are capable of autonomously detecting defects such as delamination, detachment, air bubbles, large and small cracks in the composite material in half an hour. After the drones have landed autonomously in the docking station, the inspection data is registered and analysed. The system is equipped with artificial intelligence, an algorithm that trains the system to interpret the severity of damage more and more accurately. Goveas: “The most special thing about our innovation is the error detection algorithm.” The result is an increasingly sophisticated monitoring program for effective preventive maintenance.

This innovation is particularly relevant for wind farm operators and the maintenance sector. On average, a human inspection takes seven hours. All this time, a wind turbine is out of order. According to calculations, the application of this technology results in a saving of almost 30% on maintenance costs. The number of operating hours of a wind turbine increases by 6.5 hours per wind turbine compared to human inspection. And less downtime means more sustainable electricity production.

For the energy transition as a whole, lower operational and maintenance costs and more production hours mean a more reliable, safer and more cost-efficient offshore wind industry. This innovation makes it more attractive for investors to invest in offshore energy projects. This also accelerates the transition to a sustainable energy supply.

SpectX started this development in July 2021. In the meantime, the company has carried out numerous feasibility experiments together with the NLR and DreNDT industry. SpectX is currently working on an active, dynamic control system that dampens the vibrations from gusts and turbulence, thus increasing the accuracy of positioning and synchronization in highly turbulent weather conditions by a factor of ten. The drones will also be equipped with IR/thermal cameras. The expected market launch is 2024.

SpectX is one of the three nominees for the Offshore Wind Innovators Award 2021. Would you like to attend the presentation of the jury and audience award? Register for our live (and online) event on March 22 in Rotterdam.

Register here