Major boost for UK robotics sector from KTN Innovation Exchange Competition

Posted on: 18/11/2020
Robot working on wind turbine blade

GE Renewable Energy and ORE Catapult announce Tethys and Aerones as winners of KTN Innovation Exchange competition.

Tethys Energy Services (Tethys) led a consortium bid to an offshore wind KTN Innovation Exchange challenge competition hosted by GE Renewable Energy and ORE Catapult. The winning consortium made up of Tethys and Aerones will receive support from GE Renewable Energy to help advance their blade maintenance technology.

KTN worked closely with GE Renewable Energy and ORE Catapult to source British robotics solution providers for turbine blade maintenance challenges using KTN’s Innovation Exchange, an online platform that promotes innovation transfer.

KTN Innovation Exchange matches real industry challenges from large companies to organisations, often from other sectors, who have innovative technology and can facilitate faster development of novel, high TRL solutions to those challenges.

The GE Renewable Energy blade maintenance challenge was launched as part of GE and ORE Catapult’s Stay Ashore research and development programme. It called for robotics solutions focussed on automating blade maintenance activities and reducing unplanned offshore activity. The robotics solution needed to be able to deliver as many of the required tasks as possible on a blade, including repair, visual inspection, internal inspection, cleaning, drainage hole cleaning and lightning protection system testing.

Following the process, six organisations were invited to pitch to a team of technical experts from GE Renewable Energy and ORE Catapult. Some of these had limited experience of the offshore wind energy sector; their technologies and proposed solutions had been used successfully in other sectors and the ability to transfer the knowledge to the offshore wind arena was recognised.

The challenges were agreed with GE Renewable Energy and ORE Catapult and then promoted to KTN’s network of innovators across different sectors, in areas such as oil and gas, water, chemical, defence and security, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), infrastructure and healthcare. The transfer of skills and knowledge from other sectors is a key driver for the platform and allows the challenger to explore potential solutions from diverse sectors that they might not otherwise have considered or been able to access easily.

The winning consortium presented a way to utilise a robotics platform for turnkey onshore wind turbine blade maintenance using a novel offshore deployment mechanism.  The system will be able to deliver advanced remote inspection, maintenance and repair tasks on offshore wind turbine blades up to five times faster than conventional rope access, drastically reducing turbine downtime. It is also more scalable and much safer to deploy, removing the need for personnel to work at height.

The next stage in development will see Tethys and Aerones demonstrate their prototype technology on ORE Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine in Fife. In addition, GE Renewable Energy will provide technical support and guidance on how the technology could be used on the company’s offshore wind farms.

Tethys is establishing its operations base in the UK, from which it will provide an increased variety of proven, innovative services to wind farms across Europe, growing its UK-based employees to 40 by 2024. Aerones intends to explore options for manufacturing the robots in the UK, creating a high value robotics manufacturing site, focussed on offshore wind. These are big wins for UK business, with the potential to significantly contribute to 2050 Net Zero targets.

Anthony Gordon, Programme Manager at GE Renewable Energy said:

“Posting our challenges on KTN Innovation Exchange has allowed us to have a cross-sectoral approach and added an element of reach that has proved invaluable. The responses have allowed us to explore applying solutions from other sectors and find a potentially game changing solution to one of our innovation challenges.”

Jamie Allan, CCO at Tethys said:

“The KTN Innovation Exchange competition has provided us with a hugely significant win with an industry prime that otherwise may have taken us years to setup. The application form was very short, and it led us straight into a pitch with GE. Programmes like this serve UK businesses very well indeed and I urge companies to grab the opportunity with two hands.”

Chris Bagley, Head of Clean Energy & Infrastructure, KTN said:

“We are incredibly proud to have played a part in bringing together a solution that will make such a positive impact on the use and development of clean energy systems. The Innovation Exchange approach enabled all parties to quickly and efficiently identify the key elements in the challenge and so produce a highly focused solution. We look forward to supporting more clean energy challenges soon.”

KTN’s Innovation Exchange helps organisations look for game changing solutions to challenges and bring them to market faster. A robust and sustainable energy sector is critical for both the nation’s economy and society as a whole. It is an integral part of the package of solutions necessary to meet the UK’s ambitious Net Zero targets. To remain innovative, the sector must adopt new technologies and challenges do arise. The Innovation Exchange is a quick route to accessing cross sector solutions to those challenges. The offshore wind challenges are always sponsored by end users and often lead to significant traction for a winning business. Innovators get the opportunity to work with large corporates on a commercial basis via a short application form, presenting their ideas. The challenge owner selects the ideas that are of best fit for solving their challenge and then looks to collaborate on a commercial basis.

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