Grant boost for wind turbine blade robot
23rd November 2017
A robotic crawler to inspect wind turbine blades is being developed with the help of a £50,000 grant from the SCORE Innovation fund.
Great Yarmouth-based ATAM Group’s magnetic crawler climbs turbine towers, then uses a camera and electronic arm to check for blade damage.
ATAM tested the crawler on the full-size turbine training tower and along test blades at ORE Catapult’s facilities in Northumberland, which is offered as part of its £50,000 grant award from the £6m SCORE fund.
The trials enabled the ATAM team to identify any shortcomings on its Inspection Mag, access expert advice and make contacts with potential customers, who were gathered at ORE Catapult’s Blyth facilities or a blades conference.
SCORE, which helps SMEs across England develop new products, processes and ideas that solve problems and drive efficiency in offshore renewables, bringing benefit to the East of England, has so far awarded more than £850,000 worth of grants for more than 20 projects worth over £2.4m.
ATAM managing director Mark Loades said: “The Inspection Mag Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) aims to provide an alternative to using manned rope access teams for asset inspection through a potentially revolutionary new concept for the renewable energy sector with increased safety, productivity and cost efficiency.
“Our original plan was to have the robot gripping and travelling along the outside of the blade, but the tests at ORE Catapult ruled that out, so we are switching to a magnetic crawler on the tower, with a high definition camera to look for blade damage., and an arm which extends to touch and test the blade lightning conductors.
“It is great that the SCORE grant was flexible to allow us to develop the project, and their link with ORE catapult was a vital testbed to get the Blade Runner on the right track.”
“ATAM already operates magnetic ROVs for pipeline, tank, hull and monopole interior inspection – and the Inspection Mag used the technology in a pioneering new application.” said Mr Loades, who has a lifetime of front-line experience in the oil and gas, chemicals and offshore energy sectors.
He launched ATAM six months ago and it has grown from two to six staff with eight contractors doing a range of work from pipeline inspection services, weld testing and process pipe cleaning to developing inspection data software. The company, based on the Harfreys Industrial Estate, has a new office opening in Aberdeen and is expanding operations to South East Asia, the Middle East and United States.
Andrew Tipping, commercialisation manager at ORE Catapult, said the full- size wind turbine blade at ground level was “the closest they could get to the real thing.”
“ATAM couldn’t go to a wind farm operator and ask them to shut down a turbine for their research and development, which is why we have our facilities.
“They had a lot of dialogue with our engineering team on the day, spending half a day trialling the crawler and the other half was spent with the team discussing their technology. ATAM has plenty of knowledge in oil and gas but they were able to take away a lot of information about the offshore wind industry’s needs to support their continued technology development.”
“A blade conference was being held at Catapult on the day ATAM visited”, he added.
“They were able to speak to companies involved in blade inspections and make potential new business links.”
SCORE project manager Rob Bush said: “The grants panel was impressed with ATAM’s ROV project, which shows real innovation. But the real bonus is our access to the facilities and expertise at ORE Catapult at Blyth, which helped to test and redesign the project at an early stage. It shows that SCORE is about more than just funding.”
The SCORE – Supply Chain Innovation for Offshore Renewable Energy – programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is open to companies with fewer than 250 employees and an annual turnover of less than 50 million euros.
It offers grants to help companies across England to develop new products, processes and ideas which bring economic benefit to the East of England.
Grants are available to start-up and established companies for up to 40% of eligible costs or £50,000, whichever is the lower, with a minimum grant of £2,500.
The funding is designed to help companies in a wide range of areas, including research and development, collaboration with universities and research bodies, securing patents, acquiring specialist equipment or services and investigating the commercial viability of processes and technologies.
Companies can also access up to 12hrs of subsidised business support to help grow and develop their business.
The current programme is delivered by Nwes, the largest enterprise agency in the UK and in partnership with, energy industry experts Nautilus Associates and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre.