As the UK continues its rapid expansion of offshore wind, operation and maintenance (O&M) costs will increase drastically if action is not taken. Therefore, it is a priority for the sector to reduce the cost of O&M – everything from building the largest blades to inspecting the smallest bolts.
With well over 1000 bolts in a typical wind turbine, check tightening bolts is the biggest scheduled maintenance task for wind turbine operators, incurring significant costs and turbine downtime.
As part of an Innovate UK-funded project, a leading provider of fastener inspection services, EchoBolt, has partnered with ORE Catapult and GE Renewable Energy to develop its technology capabilities within the offshore wind sector. EchoBolt has developed an inspection system that uses ultrasonics to test the tension on the bolts that hold wind turbine structures together. As well as detecting faults, the sophisticated technology also allows for predictions to be made about where these faults are likely to appear – making scheduled maintenance procedures much more accurate and cost efficient.
EchoBolt’s technology promises to reduce the costs associated with offshore wind farm bolted connections by a staggering 90%, which results in an estimated saving of £250m/year for the European wind industry (both offshore and onshore).
Watch EchoBolt at work:
Partnering with ORE Catapult has offered EchoBolt huge and exciting opportunities develop its inspection technology. ORE Catapult has supported EchoBolt in securing Innovate UK funding to expand the capabilities of its technology as well as provided access to our 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine for testing in simulated real-world conditions.
During the trials, EchoBolt was able to demonstrate inspections could be completed comfortably in under 30 seconds a bolt for the initial inspection with subsequent inspections under 10 seconds per bolt. EchoBolt’s condition-based maintenance approach for bolted connections could eliminate approximately 10,000 offshore workdays across Europe annually.
Thanks to our partnership with GE Renewable Energy in the frame of our ‘Stay Ashore’ programme, EchoBolt has also had the opportunity to secure further testing and validation on GE’s Haliade-X offshore wind turbine nacelle at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth in 2020.
EchoBolt’s technology has also been granted independent certification from TÜV Rhineland, meaning wind turbine operators can rely upon EchoBolt to provide the foundation for management of structural integrity.
In 2021, EchoBolt is partnering with UK robotics specialists, BladeBUG, to deliver a new project to entirely automate bolt inspections using crawling inspection robotics – bringing the vision for an autonomous future for wind turbine maintenance a step closer.
EchoBolt also expects to expand its operations significantly following the initial Innovate UK project, doubling the number of employees at the beginning of the project by the end of 2021 in readiness for commercial roll-out.