General Electric reports it completed trials in the “Automated Blade Finishing” program launched last year, together with the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and conducted by GE Renewable Energy, GE Research, and LM Wind Power, itself a subsidiary of GE Renewable Energy. The program aims to adapt sensing technologies, robotics, and automation to the task of surface finishing advanced composite materials used to form wind turbine blades, in order to improve throughput, environmental health and safety, and quality for wind-turbine manufacturing.
The blade finishing process includes trimming excess material after molding the composite materials and then grinding blade surfaces in line with quality requirements.
The Automated Blade Finishing program seeks to increase throughput by 30% and improve EHS in factories where turbine blades are produced.
Starting from a general concept, the research moved to prototype stage while drawing input from NREL’s Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology (CoMET) installation near Boulder, Col. Concept trials on blade sections were carried out there, followed by trials on full-scale turbine blades at the LM Wind Power factory in Grand Forks, N.D.
James Martin, LM Wind Power’s director, Technology Center Americas, said: “(The) automated wind turbine blade finishing program has been a critical catalyst for advancing 'automation led design' principles into LM Wind Power. The team has delivered an innovative solution to a problem that is common across many aspects of high-throughput composite manufacturing, paving the way for safer, higher-quality component trimming.”
Martin said LM Wind Power is proceeding to conduct factory trials and industrialization of the program’s test results, aiming to implement the automated capabilities at the GE unit’s North American manufacturing facilities in the next product and factory cycle.