Sofia challenges students with blade innovation competition

For the second year running, Teesside University students took part in Sofia's blade innovation challenge as part of their Foundation Year of their Engineering Degree.

Around 50 students become offshore wind innovators

Now in its second year, the Sofia blade innovation challenge has given around 50 Teesside University students the opportunity to become offshore wind innovators.

The challenge - for students to come up with innovative new ways to inspect the blades of offshore wind turbines - is part of the Foundation Year of their Engineering Degree, making up a four month Engineering Design module.

The students form teams to develop their concepts, with the brief being to develop solutions that would limit any turbine down-time, reduce risk by removing the need for rope-access and be cost-effective.

The results ranged from using ultrasound combined with drones, a network of buoys with lidars and vibration sensors to the use of thermal imagery. This year's winner was a concept combining ground based lidar for preliminary scans with a climbing robot named the 'Blade-Mite' inspired by existing technologies.

The challenge started with an introductory session from RWE experts who outlined 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 existing blade inspection methodologies. They also had a session with RWE engineers discussing careers pathways 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 the half-day judging session at the University, with the students preparing posters to summarise their work and then giving presentations to a three-strong judging panel comprising Sofia's Operations and Maintenance Manager Malcolm Barnett, Communications Manager Sue Vincent and Education Consultant Mike Cargill.

Each team prepared a poster and gave a presentation on their innovation, with the team of three students: Ashwin Karunakaran, Issa Rodiat and Wisdom Marufu (see photo below) being named as winners having impressed the judges with their research, use of maths and logistics, design and overall concept.

In second place was the team who developed the concept focussing on a three-part monitoring solution combining air-pressure monitoring with drone inspections and integrated chips. 

The challenge was run by Gill Lacey, Senior Lecturer at Teesside University's School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies who said: "The students really enjoyed the real-world element of this challenge which integrated numerous engineering disciplines, maths, logistics and especially the design side. It gave them a chance to experience the realities of problem-solving and teamwork and should hold them in good stead for their future careers.

"I am thankful for the input from the RWE and Sofia team as we very much appreciate their hands-on involvement and enthusiasm, and also to those at the Siemens Gamesa facility in Hull because the visit to see the blades there really helps to bring the whole project to life.”

The winning team Issa, Ashwin and Wisdom with their 'Blade-Mite' poster and Sofia's Malcolm Barnett.


May 2023