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Fraunhofer Institute seeks automation solution for rotor blade manufacture

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute’s Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) have embarked on a €8 million research programme which aims to automate the manufacture of wind turbine rotor blades.

The Fraunhofer researchers, based in Germany, hope that an automated solution in the BladeMaker project will cut the cost of wind turbine production and cut the total cost of wind turbines by at least 10%.

Rotor blade manufacture accounts for around a quarter of the cost of a wind turbine, a result of the man hours required to make them by hand. Automating the process will make the blades more cost effective, quicker to manufacture, and a higher quality, IWES believes.

Blades, among the most complex parts to mould, can now exceed 75m-80 m in length and are getting longer; and new products and processes are being developed to meet the needs of utility-scale blade producers.

As wind turbines go offshore and into more extreme environments, the demands put on their blades increase. To ensure the blades meet design requirements, they are tested – both internally and by full-scale testing facilities.

According to the team behind the project, significant cost reductions can be achieved through changing from small series production to large scale industrial production, which is why the project will focus on a complete manufacturing chain for rotor blade production.

First, the team will analyse the work procedures and technologies of rotor blade production and assess the potential for automation. Then, any promising automated manufacturing processes will be investigated and simulated. Finally the team will build a demonstration model and the BladeMaker Blade will be designed, optimised for automated production.

In the long term, IWES plans to set up a BladeMaker demonstration plant in Germany, with the aim of becoming a “national and international centre for the research and development of rotor blade production”.

In order to achieve the target, rotor blade design, materials and manufacturing processes will be taken into consideration. Florian Sayer of the Fraunhofer IWES said: “In international competition rotor blade producers are under great cost pressures which we will tackle with automation.”

The project will run until the end of September 2017. The project is funded with €8 million from the German government.
 

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