Thermal conductive paint and mesh sensors top the challenge
More than 50 Teesside University students took part in the inaugural Sofia blade innovation challenge as part of the Foundation Year of their Engineering Degree, where the competition formed a four month Engineering Design module.
Their team projects resulted in presentations of a number of new and innovative ways to inspect the blades on offshore wind farms, with the brief being to develop solutions that would reduce turbine down-time, remove the need for rope-access and be cost-effective.
The challenge started with an introductory session from RWE experts including Turbine Engineer Jenn Bradshaw and Sofia's Operations & Maintenance Implementation Manager Alex Macdonald, outlining to students their requirements as the 'customers' and summarising the current inspection methods.
Over a period of four months, the teams of students researched, analysed and assessed potential ways to improve blade inspection methodologies. They also had presentations from Sofia's turbine team and a visit to the Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy's impressive factory in Hull to see the size and scale of the blades under fabrication.
The challenge culminated in a half-day judging session at the University, with the students presenting their concepts using posters, models and digital programmes to a four-strong judging panel from RWE and Sofia.
The judges - including Jenn, Alex, Mike Cargill (who supported the project throughout) and Communications Manager Sue Vincent - settled on winners who proposed the use of thermal conductive paint with colour-changing properties paired with a conductive wire to act as an early detection system for damaged blades. In second place was the team who developed the concept of covering the blades with a thin mesh of sensors to detect any cracks or changes in structure.
The challenge was run by Gill Lacey, Senior Lecturer at Teesside University's School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies who said: "The students tackled this competition with enthusiasm and seemed to learn a lot about the design process as well as about the offshore wind energy industry, with thanks to the input from the RWE and Sofia team.
"All those involved from the company were helpful and responsive to the students and to me as I took them through the course. The competition helped those who participated to develop their design skills. Just watching them earnestly convince the RWE judges about their ideas with confidence and conviction was great to see.”
RWE and Sofia judges assess the poster presentations
Students explain their innovative thermal conductive paint concept to the judges.