A new entrant to the offshore wind industry is bringing high level investment, disruptive technology, scale and a diverse skillset to the growing market for drones for operations and maintenance
Texo Drone Survey & Inspection (Texo DSI) isn’t just another company providing inspection services offshore. It already operates long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), inspection systems that can conduct surveys inside structures – including inside the tower of an offshore wind turbine – and is developing industry-specific sensors that can enhance operations and maintenance (O&M). It also operates larger numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) than most operators – more than 100 – and equips them with 28 different payloads, with more in development.
A relative newcomer to offshore wind, it is active in a number of other industries, including offshore oil and gas and nuclear but as David Williams, the company’s principal operations officer told OWJ, perhaps the biggest difference between Texo DSI and other drone companies is that it doesn’t just do visual inspections: it uses multiple sensors to obtain a much greater range of data that can be applied to meet the needs of operations and maintenance (O&M) on offshore windfarms.
“Texo DSI isn’t going to be an also-ran in the drone industry,” Mr Williams said. “We have significant investment behind us and we have sales that exceed almost any other company. We focus on the top end of the market and are investing in R&D to develop payloads for our drones that meet the needs of end users. We also have a range of skills that we bring to offshore wind energy from other sectors such as nuclear and oil and gas.”
The company’s focus on R&D has seen it collaborate with Heriot-Watt University in Scotland and February 2018 saw it appoint Dr David Flynn, an associate professor at the university, as a non-executive director.
Dr Flynn has a long track record of delivering new technology to market and supporting companies, as well as governments, in creating solutions for intelligent asset management. He will provide strategic support as well as being a special advisor to the business for the development of sensor technology and asset management solutions, as well as helping it to integrate remote sensing technology into its fleet of UAVs and develop systems such as ‘TEXZONE,’ a visualisation and asset management software programme.
Most UAVs are still relatively short-range units that are flown from offshore platforms or vessels, but Texo DSI recently took delivery of the first of a range of long range vertical take-off unmanned helicopter systems (UHSs). Its beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) High Eye HEF 32 UHS is believed to be the first of its type in the UK. Mr Williams said the company is looking to work in partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority to develop BVLOS operations and deploy the system across our client sectors, including offshore energy sector.
The HEF 32 UHS will allow Texo DSI to operate from shore to deliver detailed inspection of offshore assets without the associated risk and cost of marine transport and transfer of personnel. “With a 50 km+ live HD datalink and a 4.5-hour flight time, we can now bring offshore installation inspections to the next level in terms of safety and efficiency,” Mr Williams said.
In line with Texo DSI DSI’s commitment to payload versatility, the UHS has been configured to adopt interchangeable payload options, including advanced 30x optical zoom HD camera systems, thermal imaging, LiDAR and other applications, to accommodate both maritime and land-based missions.
Looking further ahead, Texo DSI expects to be using unmanned aerial systems with a range of 60-100 km before long, has been asked by a client examine a drone that could transport tools and has already developed the what it believes to be the world’s first UAV integrated winch for the supply and retrieval of loads of up to 10kg.
“This drone is able to deliver with loads to personnel on high structures and difficult to reach locations,” Mr Williams explained. “With the ability to take off onshore or offshore it reduces the need to embark and disembark equipment from offshore turbines to a vessel and the need for personnel to climb tower structures for tool and small parts retrieval.” He might also have added that using a drone to deliver tools could reduce costs.
As highlighted above, the company has also begun offering internal inspection systems for various markets. In late 2017 it undertook a world-first internal inspection of a tower on a turbine on a windfarm owned by EDF.
The configuration of Texo DSI’s internal UAV allows for detail of 0.2mm per pixel to be obtained for engineers and its high level of manoeuvrability allows structures with as small a diameter as 6m and height of 25m to be inspected thoroughly and quickly. A carbon fibre anti-collision encapsulation system enables the UAV to come into direct contact with surfaces to maximise data quality whilst safeguarding against damage to the asset or the UAV.
In May 2018, the company announced that it had become an industrial partner of HOME Offshore (Holistic Operation and Maintenance for Energy from Offshore Wind Farms), a research project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which partners five leading UK universities. The project will investigate the use of advanced sensing, robotics, virtual reality models and artificial intelligence to reduce maintenance cost and effort for offshore windfarms.
Technology being developed in the research project will facilitate predictive and diagnostic techniques that will allow problems to be picked up early, when easy and inexpensive maintenance will allow problems to be fixed. Robots and advanced sensors will be used to minimise the need for human intervention in the offshore environment. The project also aims to generate more ‘actionable data’ – useful information that can reduce O&M costs and improve safety in the offshore wind sector.
At about the same time, the company also announced a joint venture (JV) with SFF Services Limited (SFFSL), commercial division of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) that will see Texo DSI incorporate UAV inspection applications into SFFSL’s portfolio of vessel services to offshore industries. These include survey-grade LiDAR for precise asset information modelling, UT thickness testing, optical gas imaging, hyperspectral survey for identification of hazardous materials and remote/supply drop. Other technology that could be used by the JV is UAV-integrated solutions that include a microwave sensor, alternating current field measurement and phased array sensors for weld fatigue monitoring.
The company is also due to participate in trials with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, using a drone equipped with very high-resolution visuals to inspect wind turbine blades. “A typical UAV will give you 16-20 megapixel stills and 4K video,” Mr Williams told OWJ. “Some operators give you 38 megapixels, but we plan to use a 100-megapixel system that will provide very much higher resolution and help windfarms detect corrosion or phenomena such as leading-edge erosion very much earlier than would otherwise be possible.”