Robots: Humans' Dependable Helpers

Research and Development in Robotic Systems

Automated Inspection of Rotor Blades

© Fraunhofer IFF

Robot for the Inspection of Wind Turbine Rotor Blades (RIWEA)

The objective of the RIWEA project was to develop novel technologies to completely capture the condition of wind turbine rotor blades. Such state-of-the-art inspection methods as thermography, ultrasonics and high resolution cameras in conjunction with innovative robots make a reliable, objective and integrated analysis of blade condition possible. Wind turbine rotor blades must be inspected for damage at regular intervals. Primarily made of glass fiber reinforced plastics, rotor blades are one of a wind turbine’s most highly stressed components.

The robot system consists of a frame structure that fully encloses the rotor blade and move on ropes along the rotor blade. This enables the robot to inspect every significant area of the rotor blade and autonomously adjust to its variable cross section. The frame structure can be opened mechanically so that the robot can automatically attach at the rotor blade, thus making the system compatible with any type of wind energy converter.

Simulation of rotor blade inspection within the RIWEA project.

Key elements of development

  • Inspection system that inspects rotor blades from outside
  • Nondestructive inspection system such as active infrared thermography and ultrasound for deeper structures such as the bonded joints of the spar and leading and trailing edges
  • Visual surface inspection with high resolution cameras
  • Automated carrier systems that position and guide inspection sensor systems along the rotor blade surfaces
  • Optimized power supply and safety systems for use at rotor blades
  • Complete rotor blade condition log with precise mapping of detected damage, specifying its particular position and extent in a coordinate system matching the blade contour

The systems developed in the project may also be utilized for other fields of application. The robotics can be employed to move on difficult to access objects such as towers and chimneys. The sensor systems can be used to inspect rotor blade quality directly after manufacturing or to inspect fiber composite components for aerospace engineering.

© Fraunhofer IFF

The Robotic Systems Business Unit was responsible for the development of the robot and the coordination of the joint project.