To that end, Strat Aero and AirFusion unveiled WindSpect, a wind-turbine blade inspection system, at the recent American Wind Energy Association WindPower Conference & Exposition 2015 in Orlando.
WindSpect integrates Strat Aero’s inspection-grade hexacopters with AirFusion’s Wind Edition Inspection software and analytics to more efficiently inspect wind turbines. Typically, turbines have a 20-year lifespan with proper maintenance; however, damage from erosion and surface debonding can shorten the utility of blades. Inspecting blades visually can be expensive, dangerous and time-consuming.
With WindSpect, an operator can inspect a turbine via drone and discover hard-to-detect damage – hidden cracks, foreign objects, water deposits and loose adhesive joints. Once inspection is complete using a hexacopter equipped with sensors and high-def cameras, the data can be uploaded via SD memory card allowing AirFusion’s software package to analyze the results and generate automatic reports that can then be exported to a variety of formats used within the wind-energy industry.
“As the industry continues to grow, regular inspection and maintenance of blades are becoming critical tools for wind turbine operators,” Strat Aero CEO Russell Peck said in a company press statement. “Our collaborative approach provides the industry with the most cost-effective and accurate solution on the market today.”
The marriage of drones and wind-turbine analytics could hit an energetic sweet spot economically for Strat Aero and aerospace services company AirFusion. Global investment in wind energy rose to $99.5 billion in 2014, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts: “Wind capacity, which grew by 8.1% in 2014, is forecast to increase by 13.0% in 2015 and by another 11.3% in 2016.”
“This is an exciting time to be in the wind and energy industry. For years, the energy industry has been in search of a smarter, more reliable and efficient inspection solutions,” said AirFusion CEO Dennis Chateauneuf.
AirFusion Chief Strategy Officer Kevin Wells added that his company sees a solid growth vector in UAV applications.
“We see, as many in the industry do, a rapid growth in software applications for commercial use. UAVs have grown far beyond the consumer ‘fly it over the pool again’ stage of development,” he said. “AirFusion was created to bridge an important gap in deriving data analytics from aerial, pixel-based sensors like hyper spectral, SAR, LiDAR, EO/IR and others. We essentially connect an entire class of sensors to the Internet of Things.”