The maintenance of buildings, wind turbines, or power lines is complex and is sometimes even dangerous for service personnel. With the help of drones, technicians can perform maintenance inspections significantly faster from the safety of the ground.
The wind power industry is booming. Wind energy delivers nearly 42,000 megawatts in Germany alone – nearly half of the nation’s renewable energy. However, China leads the way in this field. In 2013, China installed five times as many wind turbines as Germany. And the trend shows no signs of slowing: By 2020, the country aims to expand its already impressive wind power capacity of 168 gigawatts by nearly two thirds to 250 gigawatts .
The biggest stumbling block for this environmentally friendly source of electricity is that the huge windmills are subjected to extreme loads. Consequently, they are prone to wear. This is critical to energy production, as the integrity of the blades’ edges has a large impact on turbine performance. In other words, the greater the erosion of the edges, the less energy the turbine generates.
For wind farm operators, such as the energy giant E.ON , regular inspections are not totally risk free. Technicians must closely inspect the turbine blades while hanging from a rope at a height of 70 meters – a process that requires considerable time and money.
The deployment of remote-controlled drones offers a solution. Instead of carrying out this intricate process while harnessed to the turbine, the technicians can simply perform this task from the ground. While one person controls the drone, another person operates a DSLR camera, which is carried by the drone. With 20 megapixels and 24x zoom, the camera transmits high-resolution images to the service technician’s monitoring screen – providing a better view than a technician up in the air.
Another advantage is that, depending on the weather and the position of the wind turbines, drones can carry out the inspection from several kilometers away. GPS data input enables the multicopter to conduct the inspection independently. Once programmed, the drone continues to its next inspection, finding its own way there.
Drones are not only useful for monitoring wind turbines that are far apart. Airbus (Hall 11, Stand B16) uses the remote-controlled UAVs for quality control of its passenger airplanes at the end of production before they are put into service. The drone follows a predetermined flight path and systematically captures images of the aircraft.
These images are then inserted into a digital 3D model and analyzed. The system detects any scratches, dents, and damages to the aircraft’s coating and produces corresponding repair instructions. Using drones for inspection has reduced aircraft downtime from two hours to less than 15 minutes .
Saving time is an important factor for Alriq EnerTrans. For this reason, the energy company deploys drones to inspect high voltage cables. Technicians no longer have to climb up the pylons and the power lines do not have to be switched off.
But drones are not only used for inspections. In China, a drone was filmed using a flamethrower to remove garbage from a power line with short bursts of fire. However, it is doubtful whether this type of robot will be used in Germany.
The possible applications for drones are diverse, but not completely without risk. You can experience the solutions offered for land, water, and air at CeBIT as part of Unmanned Systems & Solutions . Discover presentations, conferences, and practical application demonstrations here – all under one roof.