The coating of wind turbine blades and monopiles is often done semi-automatically or even manually, especially during offshore maintenance. This is time-consuming and unnecessary paint is wasted, while working conditions are far from ideal. The Delft start-up Qlayers has developed a printing system that automatically and very accurately applies the coating under protected conditions. Above all, the system controls and corrects itself.An interview with Josefien Groot, CEO of Qlayers.

For what problem have you found a solution?

“Offshore maintenance people regularly repair damaged coating layers of wind turbines with a roller. Also during production, human hands are often required to apply the coating. A spray of paint particles is released and in order to prevent spreading into the environment, a tent must be built around a meter-high platform or even a closed facility. Inefficient, inaccurate and unhealthy. That is why the start-up has developed an automatic print head.”

What’s the core of your solution?

“The system consists of a printing head which sprays the paint on the wind turbine. By operating in a locally controlled environment, the Slash100 enables to coat large surfaces, such as wind turbine blades, on any location in all weather conditions; also offshore. The equipment can be mounted on a robot arm, on a cart, crawler or, in the future, even on a drone. Alone or with multiple print heads side by side. The diameter of the printing head can vary, depending on the application.

What is so pioneering?

“The Slash100 is the first coating head that doesn’t allow any chemical materials to escape into the environment, so it does not require special coating facilities. The unique thing about this innovation is the feedback system and the design of the shielding. As far as we know, there are no coating installations that constantly monitor and learn. In addition, the shape of the cap is designed to spray the coating optimally.”

What are the benefits of your system?

“The printed coatings have consistent quality, due to a smart feedback system. Our system creates a safer workplace. The cap minimizes the health risks and ensures controlled conditions. There is no need to build a large scaffolding around a turbine blade of 100 meters long and five meters high. The number of maintenance people involved in coating can be reduced significantly. In addition up to 50% on paint can be saved by an optimum layer thickness. Because the maintenance speed is high, the downtime goes down as well.”

How far are you now?

“After three months of testing, we started with our first commercial assignment for the coating of an oil & gas pipeline early April. For this purpose, use is made of a horizontal rail system that moves along a rotating pipe. These pipes have a limited diameter, but they are excellent to gain experience. Furthermore, we are seriously talking on a high level to a major windturbine manufacturer who is looking for innovative coating technologies to replace their manual operation. They are enthusiastic. We also developed a demo print and paint system to show potential clients how it works in real life. Various companies from different industrial sectors will come by.”

What are your challenges?

“It’s a complex system. We have to integrate an electrical system with a mechanical paint system. It takes a lot of time to develop a robust and failure free system; a system that can coat turbine blades in series production, 24/7, without getting clogged. Also the question of how multiple printing heads influence each other, has to be answered. In the meantime, we must expand our network in the wind industry. We are looking for small wind turbine manufacturers as launching customers, to build up expertise and experience with our system on the short term.”

What are your next steps?

“We will move to the SAM-XL field lab in Delft: a production facility to test smart automatic manufacturing systems. We will create a paint booth in this facility. The ambition is to have a full-scale prototype of our system by the end of 2019. During 2020 we take the time to perfect and certify the system. Entering the commercial market in 2020 is feasible. The principle is suitable for multiple applications. What makes wind turbines attractive is that the wind industry is a fairly young, sustainable and a booming industry that is open minded towards innovation. Maintenance processes in this industry are still in its infancy. Of course we are open for more established industries as well.”

What is the added value of Offshore Wind Innovators?

“Qlayers was one of the finalists of the Offshore Wind Innovation Award 2018. As we are not well known in the wind industry yet, the pitch during the Netherlands Offshore Wind Q-meeting gave us valuable exposure for a relevant audience. This resulted in some leads and follow up contact with a monopile manufacturer. During the workshop, which was part of the finalists package, we brainstormed about entry strategies for the wind turbine industry, including our business model and financial roadmap.”

For more information visit www.qlayers.com

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