makers anywhere in the world. In turn, this helps operators to make informed decisions to either return a transformer to service with peace of mind, or to schedule repairs.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ROBOTIC INSPECTION? One of the most important benefits is that it eliminates risk to health and safety, as a technician does not need to climb into the hazardous interior of a transformer. In addition, there is no risk of a technician slipping or catching clothing or lines on internal components and damaging the transformer. Environmental risk is also reduced because there is no need to transfer, store or handle large quantities of oil and therefore no risk of oil spillages. However, another important benefit is

by Jamie Stapleton, leader for digital transformers, ABB M

any large plants in the UK rely on their own power transformers to

step voltage down from the electrical grid for distribution and consumption on-site. The long lead-time for sourcing or repair of transformers means that an unplanned outage could drastically reduce the power available to the site for many months. Over time, stresses on the power grid such as over voltages and short circuits cause wear and tear to transformers’ internal components such as tap changers, windings, insulation, gaskets and seals. In addition, there are changes to electrical loads as firms take advantage of demand side response schemes and electric vehicle charging grows in popularity. Many of the UK’s transformers were installed several decades ago and were not designed to deal with today’s conditions. As a result, site managers are always keen to understand the condition of their assets with internal inspections so that they can gain an accurate insight into asset condition and therefore prevent failures and schedule maintenance before faults can arise.

WHY HAS ABB DEVELOPED A NEW TECHNIQUE FOR TRANSFORMER INSPECTION? The conventional way to achieve this is time-consuming and complex to arrange. The operator must take a transformer out of service and drain away the oil that is needed during operation to insulate and carry heat away from its internal windings.


A technician can then crawl inside the transformer to carry out a visual inspection. A confined space entry team must provide essential safety support and the entire process can represent a power outage of several days. Therefore, ABB developed the new

TXplore service that can help operators return their assets to service quickly while eliminating risk.

HOW DOES THE NEW ROBOTIC INSPECTION WORK? A team of two technicians can carry out an inspection inside an outage of less than one day. All the operator needs to do is to switch off the power and give access to allow the technicians to release a TXplore robot into the transformer oil through an access hatch in the top of the transformer. The robot is a little smaller than a

football and does not have an umbilical, therefore is free to ‘swim’ around the transformer without getting caught. It can then capture high resolution photography and video images of transformer components. For older transformers, where transformer oil has darkened over many years, the robot is fitted with bright lights to get well lit and clear photography wherever needed. A wireless controller, similar to a

gaming controller, is used as the interface and can control propellers and rudders and buoyancy that allow the robot to move inside the transformer. Images are transmitted back to the technicians, who can then share it in near-real time to experts or decision-


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The robot is a little smaller than a football and does not have an umbilical, therefore is free to ‘swim’ around the transformer without getting caught

that inspection technicians can hand transformers back to operators within a few hours. This avoids overloading a site’s other transformers and ensures the prompt return of full power.

CAN THE SERVICE BE USED IN ANY TRANSFORMER OIL? Over the years, multiple different types of mineral oil have been used to insulate transformers. In addition, the composition of oil can change as moisture, acidic compounds and sludges can build up. In addition, transformers older than 1987 may contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a toxic compound that is closely regulated. ABB carried out careful testing to ensure the robot will capture clear photography, even in the darkest oils. Oil condition is measured before and after every inspection to ensure that oil condition is unaffected by testing and to determine the correct buoyancy settings. Following inspection, the robot will undergo scrupulous cleaning and where PCBs are found, cleaning materials are sent for licenced disposal.

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