wind energy wind turbines

Wind Turbines Inspections Improved By Using Thermal Imaging

Wind turbines play crucial roles in generating power for various domestic and commercial uses in different sectors. The devices operate well in entirely open spaces meaning that they experience all weather elements. The turbines run continuously as long as there is sufficient wind to turn the blades.

The major issue with wind turbines is that blades or other components can develop cracks or other forms of anomalies in the long run. When you want to prevent this scenario, it is essential to inspect the blade using imaging methods since the device is always in motion. The measure is to avoid extensive damage to the turbine and to lower repair costs.

Cop testing, drones, and ground cops are some of the methods previously used to inspect the device for faults. The problem with these inspection methods is that they only focus on the exterior surface of the blade for the issues. However, problems that develop into big problems are often deeper inside the blade.

The introduction of high-speed turbine blade inspection technology by GE Renewable Energy comes as good news to many people. The new system of inspection uses thermal imaging technology together with large band acoustic spectral analysis.

The system works effectively on both GE and non-GE wind turbines to identify any anomalies on the blade. It also provides real data analytics that helps improve the level of accuracy when inspecting the turbine blades.

wind turbines farm

What Is Thermal Imaging?

Thermal imaging is the process where a specially designed device translates thermal or heat energy into visible light.  When the heat energy is converted to light, it significantly helps in analyzing the surroundings. It becomes possible to capture images in the dark or other hidden places using the technology.

Thermal gadgets can detect both living organisms and mechanical equipment event in the dark due to the thermal heat they produce. Thermal devices effectively work with a minimal amount of heat. A thermal camera also uses the same technology to translate thermal energy to be able to capture the image of a particular object.

Thermal devices function through capturing as well as evaluating various that occur in the absorption, reflection and transmission process of heat. When thermal radiation takes place, the object involved produces what is called a heat signature. If the degree of thermal heat generated by the object is high, more radiation takes place.

The thermal device identifies the source of heat, and it is also capable of distinguishing small differences that take place in thermal radiation. The thermal camera works by compiling a “heat map” that enables it to capture images. The quality of the images depends on the amount of the current heat.

Thermal imaging technology is used in different scenarios as long as there is sufficient heat that can be converted to light.  Firefighters use thermal imaging technology since it can turn heat to light to identify the source of the fire. Even in dark smoke, thermal imaging works perfectly well using the power of heat.

fire fighter using thermal camera

The other issue about thermal imaging is that it can identify things that a naked eye cannot do. The technology is also capable of identifying elements inside an object or an organism. Therefore, wind turbine inspections powered by thermal imaging are perfect for the task. They can detect interior components of the blades.

Most blade inspection services currently available can only identify surface issues, yet the real causes of more significant problems lie deep inside the blade. GE’s new thermal technology enables you to detect all the anomalies in the turbine blades. The technology also works perfectly well on both GE and non-GE turbines.

How Thermal Imaging Works?

GE’s thermal imaging camera works from the base of the wind turbine. The thermal imaging system works correctly well while the blades of the wind turbines are still running. The camera captures the images of the blades while they are in motion.

Images that a camera can capture while the blades are running provide real-time assessment of the surface and interior of the blade. The results you get are reliable since they strongly depend on real-time information. The camera captures the action as it is happening thereby providing real-time data that is also accurate.

When the blades are static, the camera may miss some of the defects that are still developing. These seemingly minor defects are only visible to the camera when the modules are running. Some flaws on the blades produce a specific sound when they are rotating. The sound indicates the existence of an anomaly because a perfect turbine does not generate it.

Ordinary inspection cameras cannot detect this anomaly when the turbine is not running. Therefore, GE’s inspection technology of the turbines is smart and useful since it can quickly detect such tricky anomalies.   The technology is capable of pinpointing the exact place where the sound is coming from.

Apart from turning down the wind turbine, the thermal imaging system gives you realistic results from data obtained while the blades are in action. If you turn the turbine down, everything might look okay, but there might be more significant issues developing underneath.

GE thermal imaging system also helps you to maintain your assets long after the completion of the inspection of the high-speed wind turbine. The digital solutions offered help with tools to organize and search data to examine similar trends on different components of your assets.

GE’s thermal imaging identifies a variety of anomalies such as splits, defects due to lightning, damaged tips as well as fiber issues. The cameras can also pick bonding issues, missing adhesive joints, blade pitch errors and many more. The new system can deal with a variety of issues from small problems to severe blade damage.

Benefits Of New Thermal Imaging System for Turbine Blade Inspection

There are also numerous benefits of using the thermal imaging system for blade inspection across the entire wind industry. The inspection system does not take into account the manufacturer of the wind turbine.

wind turbine inspection

A high degree of accuracy

Accuracy is probably the primary benefit of adopting this new technology of inspecting the turbine blades for anomalies. Other current methods that are in use for performing the same task are not very accurate since they can only detect the issues found on the outer surface of the blade.

The significant issues are inside the blade, and these contribute to its ultimate failure if the problems persist. The new technology is designed to inspect the entire unit including its interior parts for any defects. The thermal imaging system gives you accurate results that can help you to take appropriate measures to address the problems identified.

Many issues can be harmful to the wind turbine blades, but these, unfortunately, cannot be detected by ordinary devices currently used. For example, can detect fatigue cracks and splits. These issues start as very small, but with time they are likely to develop into more significant problems that may be difficult to solve and costly as well.

The other advantage of using the new GE thermal imaging system is that it helps to identify the exact location of the problem. When you identify the origin of the problem, you have a better solution at hand to solve it. In an attempt to solve a problem, some miss the target.

Accurate information about the source of the problem helps to prevent defective repairs. In some cases, you may think you have solved the problem, but you miss the target.  As a result, the problem will persist, and it can cause more significant issues to your wind turbine in the future.

Therefore, thermal imaging inspection technology helps you to address potential problems before they become significant and costly. When you can detect early issues on your wind turbine, you are in a better position to lower the costs of maintenance by up to 25%.

Some problems are preventable as long as there is accurate information about their origins. At the same time, quality inspection helps to extend your wind turbine’s life. It is better to prevent a problem than an attempt to solve it when the turbine is no longer functional.

 The System is a One-Stop Inspection Solution

The other significant benefit of the new thermal imaging inspection system is that it applies to all types of wind turbines apart from GE units. There are different types of turbines offered by other players in the industry. When it comes to inspection for defects, this is not an issue since the new system caters to different types of gadgets.

Regarding maintenance, you save a lot of money since you can use a universal system to inspect all the units regardless of different models. You do not need to procure different imaging devices to perform the task of examining your turbines. There are also chances of obtaining similar results meaning that you can apply the same solutions to all wind turbines.

If it is possible to apply similar solutions to your entire fleet, then you are in a better position to save a lot of money. Maintenance costs increase if you use different services for equipment that belong to the same category but only differ in models. In this case, thermal imaging technology gives you identical results.

Shorter Inspection Time

The other advantage of the new blade inspection system is that it takes a shorter period of fewer than 15 minutes per unit. The system has so far been used to inspect over 1,500 wind turbines, and it is capable of checking more groups. You can quickly attend to the problem once you have identified its leading cause.

The system is ground-based, and it does not need top of the tower inspections.  In other words, the inspection system helps to reduce physical checks. The system also helps in providing real-time data analytics in a fast way. The mode is also safe to use in different environments.

The thermal camera also covers a large area such that it picks different things from a distance. As such, it does not require the physical presence of the technicians at the wind turbine since it can handle the task without supervision.

The Inspection System is Possible While The Blades Are Rotating

Unlike other methods of inspection which require you to turn down the wind turbine, the thermal imaging system works while it is running. The significant advantage is that you can maintain the output of power generation while at the same time carrying out the inspection.

Other activities continue operating despite the otherwise simple task of inspecting the blades of the wind turbine. When the output continues, production and other services are safe from disruption. As a result, no losses can be recorded in business when production keeps going, unlike a different situation where everything stops.

Advantages of Using Thermal Technology

Thermal technology is environmentally friendly since it uses renewable energy. This kind of power is smart in that it does not cause damage to the environment by emitting toxic substances. The technology makes the world cleaner and efficient through enhancing the manufacture of affordable and high-quality products like the thermal camera.

Bio-inspired technology is also advantageous in that it helps to lower the cost of manufacturing sensitive gadgets. For instance, GE’s camera is very sensitive compared to other devices previously used for wind turbine blade inspection.

Source: GE Renewable Energy

GE’s thermal imaging technology significantly improves wind turbine inspections in many ways. This technology mainly relies on thermal energy and the camera is capable of detecting various components underneath the surface of an object. For example, a thermal camera can detect anomalies deep inside the wind turbine blades.

The camera is also able to capture accurate images based on real-time data. The thermal device can detect anomalies from the blades while they are rotating. Other conventional inspection cameras usually function when the wind turbine blades are not running. The other notable aspect is that GE’s thermal technology works well on different models of wind turbines and helps to extend their lifespan.