Engineering news

Robotics and Autonomous Systems in Offshore Wind Operation and Maintenance Services...60 Seconds with Tony Fong of ORE Catapult

Tony Fong, ORE Catapult

Robotics and Autonomous Systems in Offshore Wind Operation and Maintenance Services, London, 23 May 2019
Robotics and Autonomous Systems in Offshore Wind Operation and Maintenance Services, London, 23 May 2019

Ahead of the seminar on Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) in Offshore Wind Operation and Maintenance Services, we caught up with Tony Fong, Engineering Team Lead, Balance of Plant and Robotics and Autonomous Systems at ORE Catapult.

Tony explained his role and involvement with regards to the seminar, critical engineering challenges, what he is looking forward to at the event and why it is important for engineers to attend.

Q: Briefly explain your role and involvement within Robotics and Autonomous Systems in Offshore Wind Operation and Maintenance Services?

Tony Fong (TF): My role as an Engineering Team Leader at ORE Catapult within the Operational Performance Directorate involves leading a variety of projects to support and develop innovative Robotics and Autonomous Systems solutions for Offshore Wind Operations and Maintenance. My involvement with RAS ranges from performing high level technical feasibility assessments for the application of RAS for cost reduction and safety improvements within Offshore Wind, through to the development of representative validation and testing methodologies designed to de-risk and accelerate the development of innovative RAS solutions for the sector.

I am a CAA permitted Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operator for commercial operations with experience of carrying out aerial inspections in industrial environments including our 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine. With my expertise around UAS technology and operations, I am currently leading the development of industry led requirements for the definition and validation of UAS blade inspection quality. Working alongside industry and the supply chain I aim to develop a coherent and accepted definition for quality standard in the industry and provide a methodology which accompanies the validation of new and existing solutions. This will assist the industry in de-risking new products and aid the supply chain with a common set of requirements which can be used to further optimise their commercial offering.

Additionally, I am a member of the British Standards Institute UAS Standards working group who are responsible for the development of standards within the UK for unmanned aerial systems.

Q: What is the number one challenge for those using or benefitting from these technologies in today’s current market?

TF: From my perspective, the primary challenge faced by those adopting RAS technology into their operations is the holistic quantification of the health, safety, cost and quality benefits to the sector. Offshore Wind is both technically and commercially complex with a variety of stakeholders involved at differing stages of design, installation and operation making it difficult to predict the techno-economic impact from the implementation of a new piece of O&M technology.

Robust and reliable estimation of the impact on cost, safety and the ability for the system to maintain or even improve on quality of work are vital in securing the successful adoption of the technology.

This is the motivation for much of my work at ORE Catapult, to assist the industry, supply chain and innovators in the successful validation and de-risking of RAS from a technical, legislative and commercial standpoint.

Q: What is the most exciting development in this field at the moment, either within your company or in the industry in general?

TF: The fast rate of development of RAS for industry is resulting in many exciting developments arising regularly. Currently the most exciting is the development of integrated RAS solutions capable of operating offshore with little to no human intervention. Such solutions involve the integration of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) and crawler robotics working together using artificial intelligence in order to provide multifaceted O&M solutions with no need for humans offshore.

Q: Where do you see the future of robotics and autonomous systems in offshore wind going in the next 5–10 years?

TF: Expanding on the previous question, I personally see the level of autonomy increasing and the integration of different systems to enable basic O&M activities to be carried out offshore with zero human intervention.

For example a USV is deployed from shore carrying a UAV and a crawler robot. Once it arrives at the wind farm, the UAV will be deployed to carry out inspection of the wind turbine blades, transmitting its findings to an onshore control centre. Where damage is found the UAV will return to the USV, collect a crawler robot and deploy it onto the blade to carry out basic maintenance and repair.

The vision is something we have all seen in science fiction movies, however it is now being developed by ORE Catapult partners and will soon be on the doorstep of the industry. Such solutions should not displace skills and people but instead complement these by allowing more efficient and safer human offshore operations.

Q: What key things can attendees expect learn from your presentation?

TF: Attendees can expect an insight into the prospective roles of Robotics and Autonomous Systems within the Offshore Wind sector, enabling cost reduction, safety and quality improvements. The presentation shall provide an overview of the current areas of development of RAS within the Offshore Wind sector and highlight some key areas for innovation and potential application of RAS technology based on safety and cost studies carried out by ORE Catapult.

Q: What other speakers or topics are you looking forward to hearing about and discussing at the forthcoming seminar?

TF: I am looking forward to the presentations within the Implementation of RAS in Offshore Wind topic, in particular the industry and commercial experiences of the organisations ultimately implementing the solutions which are being developed in the area of maintenance and asset integrity. Current RAS primarily carries out inspections, the move to maintenance activities are foreseeable and are currently in development, this makes these presentations extremely interesting when provided by end-user experience.

Q: Why do you feel it is important for all professionals to join this seminar?

TF: In my experience it is vital to share information, experiences and for knowledge transfer among the engineering community for successful innovation and adoption of new technologies. Cross-discipline and cross-sector knowledge is incredibly valuable in the application of technology and this is why I feel it is important for professionals to attend and to see for themselves the developments in this area.

Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) in Offshore Wind Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Services takes place on 23 May 2019 at One Birdcage Walk, London.

Join this seminar to:

  • Hear from leading organisations about the challenges facing the delivery of Offshore Wind O&M services and opportunities for cost reduction and health and safety improvements
  • Understand how Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) can reduce OPEX and improve energy generation and health and safety
  • Learn about the latest developments in RAS applied to Offshore Wind O&M and ongoing demonstration projects
  • Meet and discuss with RAS experts including leading academic, research and test centres and end users in the offshore wind industry
  • Ask key questions about how RAS can be applied to your specific operations and maintenance needs during the Q&A sessions following each presentation.
To book your place, please visit

Read more related articles

Professional Engineering magazine

Current Issue: Issue 6, 2021

Issue 6 2021 cover online

View all

Professional Engineering app

  • Industry features and content
  • Engineering and Institution news
  • News and features exclusive to app users

Download our Professional Engineering app

Professional Engineering newsletter

A weekly round-up of the most popular and topical stories featured on our website, so you won't miss anything

Subscribe to Professional Engineering newsletter

Opt into your industry sector newsletter

Related articles