They say necessity is the mother of invention. For Cartier Wind Energy, the necessity was finding a safer, faster, and less expensive way to inspect turbine blades – all 1,179 of them!
Until now, the only way to inspect turbine blades was by hiring “spidermen” to climb the blades with cameras attached to their helmets. This required stopping the turbine for three to six hours and only allowed for the inspection of one turbine per day, and only one side of each blade.
So Robert Guillemette, General Manager of Cartier Wind Energy and successful inventor in his own right, set out to come up with a better solution. In doing so, he and his team sought the technological expertise of Collineo, a small Montreal-based company specializing in innovative, high-performance, and high-mobility robotics solutions. What they came up with together is a one-of-a-kind instrument: a very high-precision camera mounted on a powerful telescope, which can be quickly guided by remote control to scan the surface of a blade. Lasers on the telescope help to position the instrument and measure distances with great accuracy. Cartier and Collineo share the intellectual property rights to this invention, on which a patent has been filed.
Results so far have been impressive. According to Robert Guillemette, “the camera has improved health and safety by eliminating the need to climb and rappel the turbines. In addition, it has reduced downtime for each turbine to one hour or less, it scans both sides and the leading edge of each blade, and it allows operators to inspect four to six turbines per day – that’s four to six times more than with the old method.” He estimates inspection costs have already been reduced by 70% to 80%.
In addition, the team at Cartier has designed a system to analyze the photos taken with the camera’s very powerful zoom lens, detecting cracks as small as a human hair. This allows for the early detection and repair of these cracks, significantly reducing maintenance expenses over time.
The camera will be used at all five of Cartier’s wind farms for end-of-warranty and routine inspections (as the operations and maintenance contract with the original equipment manufacturer expires). The company hopes to eventually use it for the preventive maintenance of the blades, which have a life expectancy of 20 years or more.