Illwerke: AUTOMATING INSPECTION IN THE ALPS

Illwerke vkw AG tests autonomous mobile inspection solutions with Energy Robotics in the Austrian Alps

For the inspection of the Obervermuntwerk II hydroelectric power plant of illwerke vkw AG in the Austrian Alps, the quadruped robot Spot has recently been making its rounds as part of a pilot project. Adapted to the requirements of the energy supplier, the mobile robot automatically completes inspection routes, reads out measured values and collects data.

Inspections are routine tasks that require the highest levels of accuracy, consistency and reliability to meet safety, environmental and performance standards. However, due to their repetitive nature, they are prone to errors. Energy suppliers in power plants and substations also have to contend with the challenge of inaccurate inspections. This is also the case for illwerke vkw AG with its Obervermuntwerk II (OVW II) hydroelectric power plant. Located at an altitude of 1700 metres in the Austrian Alps, OVW II uses the drop of 291 metres between the Silvretta reservoir and Lake Vermunt to generate electricity. Autonomous, mobile robots offer a solution for carrying out inspections at any time with repeat accuracy and as free of errors as possible. For this reason, the energy supplier has recently been relying on the combination of Spot from Boston Dynamics with the software solution for mobile inspection robots from Energy Robotics as part of a pilot project.

Performing frequent inspection missions reliably

Like all illwerke vkw AG power plants, the OVW II is controlled entirely remotely. Nevertheless, for inspection purposes, an employee regularly has to make a longer journey to the power plant - and the same applies to the other power generation sites. Especially in winter, this is difficult due to the alpine location and weather conditions. The use of Spot supports the employees of illwerke vkw AG in their inspection routines at OVW II and helps to ensure the safety standards of the industry by taking over inspection rounds for them.

Equipped with sensors, LiDAR and various cameras (optical, thermal image), Spot autonomously follows a set route in the hydropower plant. In doing so, it manoeuvres unerringly through narrow corridors and climbs and descends stairs with ease, while recording and transmitting information about the operation on site. For example, Spot reads readings from measuring devices and uses thermal images to detect defects in pipes and temperature levels. The collected data can be used not only to detect anomalies such as excessive temperature, leaks or contamination at an early stage, but also to read out flow rates and pressure values.

"We are pleased to be implementing the pilot project together with Energy Robotics. The company has extensive experience in the autonomous control of mobile robots and the integration of sensors in complex environments," explains Anja Fürst, illwerke vkw AG. "We are convinced that we will benefit greatly from the efficiency and reliability of remotely monitored missions in our power plants."


Ensuring safety at all times

Mobile robots like Spot can be controlled and trained remotely. To enable them to be used even more efficiently, Energy Robotics is currently developing the "Click&Inspect" function. For this purpose, the inspection environment is virtually mapped via a Digital Twin. In the future, the user can manually give the robot the command to examine a specific inspection point more closely. The robot will then automatically find its way there and execute the command. A major advantage of this is that in the event of a power plant malfunction, employees can move the robot remotely to the point to be inspected and get an idea of the situation via the sensors and cameras. In this way, mobile robots may also save employees from challenging situations such as driving a car in adverse weather conditions or staying in the power plant during a hazardous situation.

"The pilot project with illwerke vkw AG is once again a great opportunity for us to prove that our inspection robots can be used in many different industries. Our mission is to make inspection tasks easier and safer," explains Marc Dassler, CEO Energy Robotics. "Whether high-risk areas such as in the oil and gas industry, thermal exhaust air purification plants, transformer stations or, as here, directly in the power plant of an energy supplier - the possible applications are diverse and can be adapted to the different requirements of the clients."

The pilot project in the OVW II hydroelectric power plant of illwerke vkw AG has been running since the beginning of October. As part of the cooperation, the power plant employees are testing different scenarios together with HydroLab, a competence group that deals with innovations in the field of hydropower. The aim is to gain insights into how Spot can support the workforce in operating power plants even more safely and efficiently.

About illwerke vkw AG
With its four business areas of hydropower, supply and services, energy networks and tourism, illwerke vkw is Vorarlberg's largest energy service provider. Around 1,200 employees are shaping the energy future of the state in exciting fields of activity and innovative projects. Find more information here.