iX Challenge: Automating Access Methods for Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) of Offshore Wind Farm Components

The Innovation Exchange programme is working alongside Scottish & Southern Electricity Renewables (SSER), who wish to engage innovators to solve the challenge of automating any of their current non-destructive testing, to remove the need for technicians to work in unsafe environments.

Funding Details
When

Registration Opens

17/06/2022

Registration Closes

02/08/2022

Award

Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch their innovation to SSER. Selected solution(s) may be trialled at SSER sites, with the possibility of further roll out if trials are successful.

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SER is a leading developer and operator of renewable energy across the UK and Ireland, with a portfolio of around 4GW of onshore wind, offshore wind and hydro. SSER has the largest offshore wind development pipeline in the UK and Ireland at over 6GW and has an onshore wind pipeline across both markets in excess of 1GW.

As part of ongoing asset life assessment and life extension activities, focussed non-destructive testing (NDT) work is required to validate assumptions on component fatigue lives and determine the extent of known issues. These works are critical for understanding asset integrity and for risk management as existing assets age. Adoption of further automated and remote NDT technology will allow SSER to move towards a future scenario of remote maintenance, leading to safer and more efficient operations.

SSER currently uses a suite of NDT methods, both at height and subsea. These NDT techniques are currently administered by divers (for subsea assets) or rope access technicians (for assets at height). Testing undertaken by personnel in conditions which can also include confined spaces and other hazardous environments, presents risk which SSER would like to mitigate as far as possible.

Challenge

The challenge is to reduce personnel deployed in high-risk remote environments by automating methods for accessing target components. Solutions should enable delivery of cost-effective NDT campaigns on offshore wind farms either at height or subsea.

At present rope access and diving are employed to conduct a wide range of NDT activities, therefore proposals are welcome for cost-effective solutions to cover any or all of these techniques or processes, including but not limited to:

  • The completion of the following techniques:
    – HD camera / photogrammetry
    – MPI (Magnetic Particle Inspection)
    – Eddy Current
    – ACFM (Alternating Current Field Measurement)
    – UT (Ultrasonic Testing)
    – TOFD (Time of Flight Diffraction)
  • Methods of determining the effectiveness of completed works
  • Completion of necessary material cleaning prior to NDT (note that for many NDT techniques, prior cleaning of the area is essential)
  • Competency assessment processes for the review/sign-off of personnel
  • Data-driven methods to target inspected zones most effectively

Proposals are welcome from:

  • Existing market-ready technologies
  • Development proposals to improve on market-ready capability

Solution providers that can perform a full testing service in offshore operational conditions are preferred, however any solution which can provide an activity listed above, whether subsea or at height, is welcome to apply.

Proposals are welcome from sensor solution providers, as long as the provision of a novel sensor leads to the removal of personnel from harmful environments (e.g. a sensor that can see through biofouling on a foundation and does not require a diver to clean the area first).

Chosen solutions may be invited to trial at SSER sites and if trials prove successful could see uptake for routine asset testing at SSER sites.

To give an indicative market size, an operator of a 500MW wind farm would spend up to £500k-1m per annum on surveys and NDT campaigns for critical components.

For context, targeted faults for NDT campaigns across components include (non-exhaustive list):

At Height

  • Blades
    – Composite degradation, cracking, fracturing
    – Leading edge erosion
    – Drainage hole blockage

Waterline and subsea

  • Foundations
    – Splash zone biofouling or damage
    – Pitting and/or corrosion
    – Characterisation of weld defects in the steel.
  • Cables
    – Cable Protection System (CPS) integrity

A solution should not rely on the use of divers or rope access technicians, due to the need to reduce QHSE risks in operations.

Techniques should be able to accurately size and assess defects in the indicative range of 25mm length by 8mm width, therefore the access method must meet these stability requirements. Sizing errors of less than 1mm would be required.

A solution should consider some or all of the following data communications and navigation capabilities:

  • Ability to navigate turbines, if crawling or via aerial deployment
  • Ability to locate and track cable routes, if subsea
  • Ability to locate foundations and substructures for inspection of foundation scour and structural properties,
  • Collision avoidance for subsea infrastructure
  • Ability to communicate data and receive commands with minimal vessel requirement
  • Ability to charge vehicles with minimal vessel requirement

Entrants to this competition must be:

  • Established businesses, start-ups, SMEs or individual entrepreneurs
  • UK based or have the intention to set up a UK base

Partnerships and consortia of organisations are welcome to apply to this competition.