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GE Renewable Energy, partners complete successful trials in automated blade finishing program

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) launched the “Automated Blade Finishing” program in 2020, aiming to improve throughput, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), and quality in wind turbine blade manufacturing.

GE Renewable Energy, partners complete successful trials in automated blade finishing program
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Blade finishing includes trimming excess material after molding 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.

The team was then able to collaborate with engineering, operations and EHS group at a 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.

“GE Renewable Energy is excited about the outcome of pilot project and look forward to industrializing this technology,” said Arvind Rangarajan, Technical Leader Automation for GE Renewable Energy, industry lead for the program.

The program is supported by funding from DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) and Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). AMO, through the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), awarded NREL $800K. This was matched by $400K from OEDIT, with $600K in company matching contributions.

“The NREL team enjoyed collaborating with our industry partners at GE to develop new ways to complete blade finishing operations,” said David Snowberg, Technical Project Manager at NREL. “The partnership between GE and NREL through IACMI enabled innovative solutions to be developed that will have a meaningful impact on domestic wind blade manufacturing, which aligns with NREL’s mission.”

James Martin, Director, Technology Center Americas, LM Wind Power said: “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.

He added “We are currently progressing the next steps of factory trials and industrialization, with the target of implementing in our North American manufacturing facilities in the next product and factory cycle.”

“This project achieved some very interesting results,” said John Winkel, AMO’s Technical Project Officer. “I am glad to see the interest in industrializing these R&D concepts, which should align nicely with increasing deployment and reducing costs of wind power once implemented in a production environment.”

More information www.ge.com