Only two months ago, Joel Lundeen, CEO and President of Measure Ohio, and his three-man pilot team set out on an ambitious goal: inspect 1,000 wind turbines this year. They’ve already topped 400 and are still going full steam ahead having performed inspections in Ohio, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Quebec, Toronto, Winnipeg, and British Columbia.
Measure Ohio's three-man pilot crew: Joel Lundeen, Sam Heckel, and Brandon Gash
Even with Measure’s autonomous LiDAR wind inspection technology in place, the team ran into gaps in the inspection process early on that they knew had to be improved if they were going to meet their goals.
“A lot of it was tweaking little things, like where we park our truck and where we setup,” says Brandon Gash, Senior Pilot for Measure Ohio.
During training, the team was instructed to setup the computer system that runs the program in the truck. But the crew recognized the distance was slowing down the connection to the drone, and it required them to spend a lot of time walking to and from the vehicle. So, they created an easy way to setup the computer system and equipment closer to the turbine, improving the connection and eliminating the need to walk back and forth.
This minor adjustment saves as much as 3 minutes per turbine, which adds up when you’re inspecting 20-50 turbines per day.
Autonomous wind turbine inspection setup
It’s that kind of approach to incremental change and careful planning that has helped the team tackle the busy inspection season. With every wind farm being unique, as much research is done ahead of time as possible. Still, so much of the process depends on environmental factors such as weather, distance between turbines, terrain, and access to wifi. At the end of every day, the team gathers and prepares for the next day, using what they learned from the first day on-site and making adjustments as they go.
“If you’re adjusting in real-time, you’re going to lose momentum and waste a lot of time on the job,” Lundeen says. “You have to learn from your mistakes and document your findings in order to plan ahead. That’s how you develop a smarter system that was better than it was yesterday.”
Gash notes that because the inspection itself is autonomous, the bulk of the work for the pilot is in troubleshooting.
“Using this technology, it’s much less likely that you’ll have an incident with the drone than when you were flying around a blade manually,” Gash says. “But you have to know all your equipment – computers, software, sensors, and drones – in and out in order to troubleshoot in the event things don’t go exactly as planned.”
And, as with any new technology, the learning curve was steep. The whole crew joined Measure’s nationwide pilot team for three-day hands-on training on the technology; yet still, new problems arise. At one point in time, the team was having trouble with the wifi connection to the drone. After some frustration in not being able to remedy the situation, they took a step back, broke down the whole setup, and put it together again from the beginning. In doing this, they found that one of the wifi knobs was loose, a small detail that was causing a big problem.
“It takes common sense and patience - a whole lot of patience,” Gash remarks. He adds, with a smile, “That’s not something they teach you in pilot training.”
Another thing they don’t teach in pilot training that Lundeen’s team has incorporated into their operations is regular meditation.
“We’re working long days outside in the elements with multi-million dollar assets in our hands. The job is physically demanding as we are constantly setting up and breaking down. It is mentally demanding as we are making adjustments and pivoting throughout the day,” Lundeen remarks. “I make sure our pilots are taking regular time to meditate and be present in the moment. This keeps them safe and calm, which makes the entire operation safer and smoother.”
So, just how long does it take Lundeen’s team to inspect a turbine? They started one at the beginning of the interview for this article and finished it just as we were wrapping up; a total of 25 minutes. How’s that for efficiency?
If you’re interested in incorporating autonomous drone technology for your business, get in touch with Measure Ohio here or submit an inquiry to our corporate headquarters using the form below.