“Maintenance of wind turbine blades must be condition-based, not time-based”, Mahesh Wagle, Cybernetik

“Maintenance of wind turbine blades must be condition-based, not time-based”, Mahesh Wagle, Cybernetik Mahesh Wagle, CEO & Co-Founder, Cybernetik

A three-decade old firm, Pune-based Cybernetik has been practively working to deliver customized automation and equipment solutions for the wind energy industry. With the EV sector gathering steam, Cybernetik has also shifted focus to build battery packs in the EV sector. The firm has in its list of clientele leading auto players such as Bajaj, TVS, and Tata Motors and has its presence felt globally with three international offices in Vietnam, Dubai and United States. In India, it has four factory units and two design offices.

Mahesh Wagle, Co-Founder & Director of Cybernetik, speaks to Namrata Gulati Sapra and sheds light on why automation in the wind energy sector is the need of the hour while also explaining why its battery packs have a competitive advantage over others in the market.

What are the primary O&M challenges with respect to wind turbines?

Mahesh Wagle: Size flexibility was cumbersome in conventional machinery. It was only through spindle calibrations that they could machine blades of different diameters. Besides, it had a cycle time of 15 hours. Limited accuracy meant that the machined blades often required rework. Multiple parts escalated maintenance and the system supported only dry machining options. Importantly, it did not allow access to data and monitoring.

How does automation of the wind turbine blades address these challenges?

Mahesh Wagle: Cybernetik harnessed the inherent flexibility of robots for its Robotic Machining System for wind turbine blades. The solution can handle blades of any size up to 3000 mm PCD, with an optional feature for machining larger blades. Speaking of options, the system supports dry as well as wet machining. With only 1 robot, helped by a tool changer, handling all operations, the robotic system reduced cycle time to 8 hours and virtually eliminated rework. Vision, sensory, motion control, and haptic algorithms deliver consistent quality. SCADA allows data acquisition and recipe selection.

What are these robotic systems priced at?

Mahesh Wagle: The pricing of the system is a complex process as this is not a standard product. Every requirement is different and Cybernetik customizes the process depending on the client’s requirements. We have already implemented this at two of the biggest wind turbine manufacturing companies globally and are actively in discussion with others.

How common are wind turbine accidents in India and what can these be mainly attributed to?

Mahesh Wagle: A Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CAIF) identified blade failure as the leading cause for wind turbine accidents. It is responsible for 19% of accidents. Other causes include fire at 15% and structural failure at 9.7%. Considering that an onshore wind turbine roughly costs over $1 million and generates more than $2000 a day approximately, accidents and the resultant downtimes are expensive. The corresponding costs for offshore wind turbines are greater, and this doesn’t even include the cost of repairs. Besides, there can be significant compensation and litigation cost involved in case of injuries to on-farm technicians.

Talking of accidents in India’s wind energy sector, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reported 52 accidents related to wind turbines from 2014 to 2018. Manufacturing errors and operational defects are the primary culprits for the erosion of the leading edge, which is the main cause of structural failure. The arid climate of North India with large seasonal temperature fluctuations makes damage at the blade root and erosion the chief agents of downtime. Lightning strikes are fairly common in peninsular South India, particularly during monsoons.

Maintenance is of utmost importance here given the astronomical costs and hassles involved with downtimes. However, maintenance needs to be condition based, not time based as is largely the case at present. Much less emergency based.

Why is automation a good idea in the wind sector?

Mahesh Wagle: Wind turbines are getting larger, which exerts greater pressure on manufacturers for innovative designs to maintain or even improve blade integrity over longer durations. And with the Indian government pushing for cleaner energy, the number of wind turbine installations is going up. Automation or, more precisely, customized automation caters to both these requirements – improving the manufacturing rate as well as quality of turbine blades.

What exactly is meant by customized automation? How does it curb accidents?

Mahesh Wagle: Speaking of tailored automation, Cybernetik’s Robotic Machining System for wind turbine blades delivers a sawn and milled surface with 0.5 mm tolerance. The tolerance for the PCD (Pitch Circle Diameter) is 1 mm. Such high accuracy lowers the probability of accidents by better fastening the blade to the rotor. It reduces the cycle time, requires minimum rework, provides consistent quality, improves operational safety thereby reducing overall costs. Apart from that, it also meets the required compliances, provides for data logging and traceability and provides flexibility to handle parts of varying shapes and sizes.

Tell us about your current projects.

Mahesh Wagle: We have worked on several projects in the past with the automotive industry, some of them include automating production processes at their manufacturing facilities and providing tailored solutions.

Currently, we are working closely with automotive manufacturers as well as OEMs to design battery pack assembly lines that comply with safety regulations amidst the surging demand for electric vehicles. These advancements in battery pack safety and production automation, achieved through partnerships with key players in the industry, could facilitate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. With this industry being relatively new, we are focusing on sharing knowledge with the industry about the automation process for battery assembly. Moreover, every company has a unique battery design which means the assembly process needs to be completely customized, and that comes with its own set of challenges.

You provide battery packs suitable for Indian conditions. How are they different from those already available?

Mahesh Wagle: Cybernetik provides high-speed battery pack assembly lines to battery pack manufacturing companies. When a lithium cell is properly manufactured and combined with effective Battery Management Software (BMS), it can operate smoothly in temperatures as high as 120 degrees Celsius. To put this in perspective, a conventional car with an internal combustion engine, which experiences thousands of tiny explosions every minute, operates in the temperature range of 80-100 degrees Celsius.

However, despite the need for a high-quality cell, lithium cells often fail to meet the necessary standards. Even minor flaws in a battery pack can cause problems, whether the pack is assembled manually or through automation. Our battery assembly solution includes 50+ processes, some automated and some manual, handling 1000s of cells per hour and offers precise and efficient assembly of cylindrical and prismatic batteries, ensuring that they meet their specified lifespan and provide maximum range. Complete tracking of quality parameters guarantees optimal battery life, and our solutions integrate operations from cell testing to stack formation and end-of-line testing. Customized operations are available through SCADA, and we also offer ESD workbenches to protect against electrostatic shocks, as well as high-speed and accurate assembly using servo, vision systems, robots, racetrack conveyors, and fixtures. Poka Yoke ensures error-proofing, and regenerative discharging conserves electricity. During end-of-line testing, we capture more than 5 million data points per hour ensuring the batteries are market-ready.

Errors in manufacturing of EV battery packs has become a common issue. How do you make sure to prevent these?

Mahesh Wagle: The automation industry in India has evolved from simple mechanical processes to advanced automation systems. These sophisticated systems incorporate technologies to enable smart manufacturing and provide valuable data insights for continuous development.

To ensure error-free assembly of EV battery packs, we employ customization, traceability, virtual commissioning, precision systems, pre-set operational sequences, testing, and an error code system. By customizing the assembly line for each specific battery pack, we establish the correct operational sequence and ensure overall compatibility. Digital twins and virtual commissioning allow us to validate designs before manufacturing, preventing potential errors. Traceability is achieved through SCADA and Automated Bar Code Scanners, which batch similar cells into modules and help identify the source of any issues.

Other than Li-ion batteries, there are other kinds of batteries that are also becoming the talk of the town- iron air, solid state, Sodium-ion. Tell us about their advantages and disadvantages.

Mahesh Wagle: Sodium-ion batteries are an appealing alternative due to the abundance of sodium, sustainable extraction methods, higher stability in temperature variations, and ease of transportation. However, their limited lifespan makes them unsuitable for powering electric vehicles currently.

Iron-air batteries, on the other hand, are a promising alternative due to iron being the fourth-most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and simpler extraction procedures. Iron mining requires less water than lithium mining, making it more environmentally friendly, and these batteries are cheaper than lithium-ion ones.

One alternative that is already widely used in various gadgets but not as well-known as lithium-ion batteries is the solid-state battery. Although they are safer and less flammable than lithium-ion batteries, the main obstacle to their widespread use is their cost. Additionally, the solid electrolyte in solid-state batteries is prone to degradation, making them less durable. While they are currently utilized in smartwatches and other small gadgets, their use in electric bikes and cars has yet to be established.

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