IOWA STATE (US)–Researchers are working to develop new, low-cost manufacturing systems that could improve the productivity of turbine blade factories by as much as 35 percent.
“The current manufacturing methods are very labor intensive,” says John Jackman, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at Iowa State University. “We need to improve throughput—we need to get more blades produced every week in order for it to be economical to continue to produce wind energy components in the United States.”
Researchers at the new Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory at Iowa State will initially work with smaller versions of molds used to manufacture fiberglass turbine blades and will study blade manufacturing in a controlled setting while they look for ways to boost efficiency.
Researcher say that eventually, the lab could also study the manufacturing of wind towers, the nacelles that sit atop the towers, gearboxes, and other wind energy components. Possible improvements include developments in automation and quality control.
Vinay Dayal, associate professor of aerospace engineering, says the lab will also look at developing new ways for manufacturers to inspect blades without taking them apart. Faster, better inspections are another way to improve factory efficiency and blade reliability, Dayal says.
“This project is all about making wind energy a reality,” explains Matt Frank, associate professors of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. “How do we make an impact on the U.S. energy profile? To do that, we have to develop manufacturing technologies that can economically make a lot of these components.”
The three-year, $6.3 million project is funded by the Iowa Power Fund, TPI Composites, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Iowa State University news: www.news.iastate.edu