Composite test centre in Scotland to provide full scale fatigue testing of turbine blades for tidal power
The first major engineering works on FASTBLADE, a state-of-the-art composite structures research facility is beginning this month as part of an industry-academic partnership between Babcock International Group (Babcock) and the University of Edinburgh.
The site of the new facility is at the former naval docks in Rosyth, which is under Babcock ownership and ideally placed for serving the maritime energy generation industry. It’s also ideally situated close to Babcock’s academic partner in the project, the University of Edinburgh.
A team of Babcock engineers will begin construction of the FASTBLADE 75 tonne structural reaction frame early next month as well as starting to fit out of the new facility.
Whilst the test centre has wide potential application in aerospace and defence, it will initially be used for lifetime fatigue testing of renewable energy tidal turbine blades, using pioneering technology which will be the first of its kind in the world.
Expected to be fully operational in 2021, the facility is funded to a value of £4.1 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Edinburgh, with Babcock appointed as the principal engineering designer. With its novel technology, it will be an international centre of innovation in the research and testing of composite materials and structures for tidal energy, marine, transport, nuclear and aerospace.
The Babcock engineers will build and assemble the reaction frame which will span 16.2m long, 2.5m wide and 7.1m high and is expected to be complete by December.
The frame will withstand huge forces cycled millions of times over its lifespan as it tests composite structures and has been designed for future needs as structures such as tidal turbine blades become bigger and materials continue to develop.
The process will also create immediate benefits for product developers with savings on time and costs, reducing risk and improving safety.
The test facility itself is designed to accommodate a wide range of clients, students and staff to help ensure both technical and customer service excellence.
The Rosyth test facility has been designed on a scale that meets the heavy equipment needs of current and future blade tests. The test hall can accommodate all the necessary test equipment including hydraulics, instrumentation and access equipment as well as the reaction frame. Space has been allocated for large vehicles to deliver test subjects using a loading bay accessed by 9mx12m doors serviced by a pair of overhead travelling cranes which can be synchronised to aid lifting operations. In addition, there is setup and specimen storage space available to allow safe installation of instrumentation prior to installation on the reaction frame.
The test hall is also serviced by mechanical and electrical workshops for working on fixturing, hydraulic systems and connection apparatus for test specimens as well as setting up instrumentation. The workshops are equipped with all the necessary equipment including data acquisition devices, signal generators, oscilloscopes and calibration equipment.
To cater for the needs of customers, visitors and those working at the facility, FASTBLADE has also been designed to provide space for people to work at a safe distance from the main test hall.
The partnership that Babcock has with the University of Edinburgh is all about technology, innovation and investing in the next generation of engineers, explains Neil Young, a Technology Director at Babcock.
According to Young, Babcock likes to work in innovative, collaborative ventures for long term value and this is a fantastic example of that, bringing together the best engineering minds with technology innovation from Edinburgh.
“We have optimised the facility design in partnership with the university and the next step is the physical build of the facility which, when complete, will be a world-class centre of innovation in composite testing, as well as a fatigue test facility for developers,” he says.
Cutting-edge digital and hydraulic technology systems developed by the university are more energy efficient than existing processes and will simulate real testing environments. Advanced analytics will assess structural performance in real time.
The development of the facility supports the digital skills agenda for both parties, and follows the University’s signing of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal in 2018, which aims to increase research-based collaboration and innovation between universities and industry across the region.
FASTBLADE strengthens the industrial academic partnership between Babcock and the University of Edinburgh and is part of wider innovation plans Babcock is co-ordinating across the region.
According to Professor Conchúr Ó Brádaigh, Head of the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, the collaboration is an opportunity to develop the next generation of engineers that industry will need and will be a resource for apprentices and engineering students to capture real-time data from industrial-scale equipment in the classroom.
“This is a significant milestone towards this unique facility opening for business to the global composites manufacturing market. The reaction frame is the backbone of the FASTBLADE system, holding clients’ structures in place in order to carry out research and testing,” says Ó Brádaigh.
According to the University of Edinburgh, the facility was developed for accelerated life testing of stiff and slendar composite and metal structures, including tidal blades and carbon fibre aircraft structures. The facility will be the first of its kind in the world and will use a Digital Displacement regenerative hydraulic actuation system to reduce the energy requirements of fatigue testing.
FASTBLADE will reduce design risks for developers by providing more data acquisition capabilities due to reduced test times. The project participants believe this will have a positive impact on academic research into advanced materials. For the commercial sector, accelerated testing of components will result in improved evaluation speeds, a faster route to certification and improved time to market.
The FASTBLADE facility will provide excellent opportunities for students and researchers at the University of Edinburgh and is another example of collaboration between academic and commercial enterprises to create successes in both environments.
Some of the work done on the facility has been performed by students at Edinburgh, including Anastasia Tsavea, who began working modal analysis of the test frame as a third year undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering.
According to Tsavea, the project involved using ANSYS FEA simulation to perform the analysis in order to predict the natural frequencies of the system. By modelling different testing environments, the stability of the system could be predicted.
This was something that Tsavea saw as an invaluable opportunity. “As an undergraduate, it was a unique professional experience to be able to apply knowledge from my studies to a tangible real-life project while simultaneously learning from and being guided by the FASTBLADE team,” she says.