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Want to crawl inside a nuke plant swinging a hammer? No? Toshiba's inspection bots will do it instead
Go ahead, feel redundant: machines reduce maintenance time by 12 days and go places humans cannot
On Wednesday Toshiba launched its commercialized robot inspection services for power plant turbine generators.
The Japanese MNC offers two types of robots: an ultra-thin version for all sizes of generators, and a more multi-function problem-solving version for – in Toshiba's words – "a wide range of inspections for domestic and overseas power plants."
The company said it will use the robots, which it developed in 2018 and is now preparing for commercialization, to develop its thermal and nuclear power plant maintenance service businesses. Not just for Toshiba generators, but all brands.
The ultra-thin robots have a 10mm (about half an inch) thick frame with some protrusions and weigh around 0.75kg (26.5oz). The multi-functional robots are 33mm (1.3 inches) thick with their arms folded and measure 700mm x 315mm (27.5in x 12.8in). The thin version is around half the width and length of the multi-functional robots.
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The thin machines rely on magnetic attraction to the surface of the stator core – part of a turbine's innards – and are already in use in some plants. The machines can use their cameras to inspect surfaces, or unfurl a hammer and microphone – the former hits the turbine, the latter listens to gather info about the state of the generation equipment.
The larger bots have arms that hold the robot in place and can inspect more parts of a turbine.
The multi-functional robot also includes a probe that uses ultrasound to inspect internal defects on a turbine rotor's wedge and teeth.
Toshiba said the robots reduce conventional rotor and stator inspection by half, to around 12 days – inclusive of generator disassembly and reassembly.
The Tokyo-based company is by its own admission not the first to utilize robots to look for potentially dangerous flaws in generators. General Electric has its own line [VIDEO] of in-situ generator inspecting robots, as do many others. Rolls-Royce also offers "fully automated" non-destructive testing and examination of equipment including nuclear reactors [PDF] and their generators.
"In recent years, inspection techniques have been developed for generators using robots, but for generators with baffles attached to stators, the baffles have been a barrier to robotic inspections," explained Toshiba. For the record, General Electric's Miniature Air Gap Inspection Crawler (MAGIC) Robot can navigate around the core gas baffles in special cases.
Prior to robotic inspection, qualified professionals had to physically separate the rotors and stators for inspection every four years. Shorter inspection intervals enabled by the robots allow for increased use of the generators. ®