Development of autonomous inspection systems for the wind energy sector: An interview with Dr. Ivan Castro
Today we are joined by Dr. Ivan Castro, our CEO at Endity, who will share with us teh history about the evolution and origin of the e-blade autonomous inspection system. Ivan will guide us through the key milestones in the development of this solution and reveal how the idea behind this innovative machine came about.
/ What is the origin of the e-blade, for what purpose or in response to what need was it decided to develop such a solution?
The origin of the e-blade is the next step in the automation of an inspection, as we have managed to develop a 100% autonomous inspection system that works collaboratively in human-occupied spaces. And although it sounds precarious, it is the evolution of the first manual scanner developed by endity for SGRE. This scanner, manually moved by an operator, evolved into a semi-automatic scanner that allowed discrete areas to be inspected automatically and this in turn evolved into what we know today as the e-blade.
/ What are the main technical developments the product has undergone in recent years?
The main technical developments are precisely related to inspection automation. It has been necessary to implement and combine multiple sensors and technologies to ensure 100% autonomous inspection of components. And controlling everything, including the safety of the system, from a single PLC has given us more than one headache.
/ What technical challenges have you faced during the evolution of the product and how have you addressed them?
Once the entire inspection process was automated, the main technical challenge we faced was the growth of wind turbine blades from inspection heights of between 3m and 5m to maximum inspection heights of 9m. The design was slightly modified, making the self-guided platform more robust and using linear guides for robot elevation.
/ What are the most significant improvements that have been implemented in the product to meet the changing needs of customers?
The most significant improvements implemented are related to something that the customer does not see at first glance, but which greatly facilitates their work, as a digital platform has been implemented in the system that has allowed us, in addition to monitoring the inspection system, to develop algorithms for automatic evaluation of the acquired data, which allow for unattended evaluation of the inspected components.
/ How has the technology used in the product evolved and what impact has it had on its performance and functionality?
The major evolution of the product since its conception is linked to the evolution of information technology (ICT) for manufacturing and industrial production. And as mentioned above, this has allowed us to completely digitise the inspection process and develop algorithms for automatic evaluation of the data acquired by the inspection system.
/ What strategies do you use to keep abreast of the latest trends and technological advances related to the product?
In this aspect, one of the great advantages of endity is that we belong to a powerful industrial group such as DANOBATGROUP, which in turn has a technology centre, IDEKO, which monitors the latest trends and technological advances related to advanced manufacturing. So we take advantage of this to integrate any development related to robotics, mobile robotics, automation, ICT, non-destructive inspection, vision… that generates value and competitive differentiation in the different solutions we bring to the market.
/ What are the key considerations in terms of design and development to ensure future compatibility and scalability of the product?
The main feature of the e-blade in terms of design and development is its modularity. The e-blade is a whole made up of different modules, which allows us to quickly adapt to the constant development of wind turbine blades and the design differences that exist between major manufacturers worldwide.
/ How have customer comments and suggestions been incorporated into the product development process?
The e-blade is the result of a close collaboration with one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers, SIEMENS-GAMESA. Therefore, it includes each and every one of the comments and suggestions received from the design stage, as well as from the more than 3 years that the system has been working in their manufacturing plants.
/ What are the next technical developments planned for the product and what benefits are expected?
On the automation level, we will continue to face the continuous growth of components, but we believe we have the right basis to do so, at least for the next 3-5 years. And in terms of digitisation, our intention is to connect all the inspection systems of a single manufacturer and develop AI-based algorithms that will allow them to use the information from these to optimise their production process.