GE Renewable Energy, LM Wind Power and GE Research in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) had launched the ‘Automated Blade Finishing’ program in 2020, aiming to improve throughput, Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) and quality in wind turbine blade manufacturing. Blade finishing includes trimming excess material after moulding and grinding blade surface to meet quality requirements.
The program’s vision is to leverage knowledge of advanced composite processing together with sensing, robotics and automation to develop low-cost solutions for wind blade finishing with potential to increase throughput by 30% and improve EHS in factories.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the team moved rapidly from concept to prototype boosted by the capabilities offered at NREL’s Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology (CoMET) facilities to perform quick proof of concept trials on blade sections. It has then collaborated with engineering, operations and EHS group at an LM Wind Power factory in Grand Forks, North Dakota to perform successful trials on an actual wind turbine blade in production. The process innovations were supplemented with agile program management to pivot as necessary and leverage digital tools to perform virtual validations and reviews with partners.
Commenting on the development, Arvind Rangarajan, Technical Leader Automation for GE Renewable Energy, industry lead for the program, said, “GE Renewable Energy is excited about the outcome of pilot project and look forward to industrializing this technology.” Funding for the program came from DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) and Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT).