“The idea is simple and at the same time ingenious,” says Voith Hydro CTO Dr Norbert Riedel when talking about new developments in digital infrastructure inspection and lifecycle management for hydropower plants.

STRUCINSPECT, a Viennese start-up founded in 2019 as a joint venture between PALFINGER AG, VCE and the ANGST Group, operates what it claims is the world`s first Infrastructure Lifecycle Hub for digital infrastructure inspection and lifecycle management. It is now partnering with Voith Hydro to make the digital assessment and tracking of hydropower dams easier and safer.

A web-based collaboration platform is the core of STRUCINSPECT’s portfolio and combines technologies and functions to maintain bridges, tunnels, and dams in a safe, sustainable, and resource-saving manner. It uses data collected by drones to efficiently visualise and analyse them with the help of artificial intelligence and other technologies such as building information modelling or augmented reality. Based on a set of configurable technology modules, STRUCINSPECT develops individual business solutions together with its customers in order to capture and precisely record inspection data, process it efficiently and use it for effective maintenance decisions.

In future, digital inspections will be performed in shorter intervals with less manual effort. Even the smallest changes will be identified by AI-assisted damage detection. This analysis serves as a base for engineers’ maintenance decisions and focuses their precious resources on exactly this core element. It can mean that maintenance and inspection become more precise and efficient, downtimes are reduced, and the performance of the plant is ensured.

While the solution is already applied in the transportation infrastructure sector the immense potential for hydropower dams is now on the rise. Voith Hydro sees great value in the offering for operators worldwide as there are thousands of dams with an average age of 50 years and many other assets like penstocks, powerhouses and tunnels that this technology can be used at.

“STRUCINSPECT’s digital inspection technology opens up the opportunity to offer new services globally,” Riedel says.

Pilot study

In a pilot project in 2022, the 72-year-old Scottish power plant Clunie was put through its paces. In terms of capacity and size, Clunie is described as being at the heart of SSE Renewables` chain of power plants between Dalwhinnie, Rannoch and Pitlochry. So far, the inspections at Clunie are carried out twice a year in the form of walk-throughs of the entire structure but problems can occur if damages are not spotted during such manual inspections.

“This is where the advantages of our digital inspection technology come into their own,” emphasises Albert Karlusch, Managing Director of STRUCINSPECT.

“We are excited about the new opportunities this technology brings and happy with the two companies we have on board for its implementation,” says Stephen Crooks, renewables civil engineer at SSE Renewables which is taking a leadership role when it comes to digital inspection.  “With this approach, we have all data managed centrally and generate measurable business value out of it.”

This article first appeared in International Water Power magazine.