NREL tests automation in wind turbine blade manufacturing

Blade manufacturing remains a highly manual and labor-intensive process. And while some robots have been used by a few blade manufacturers/suppliers for sanding and painting, the reality is that automation is still not the norm in blade factories.

Surely, the reasons for this lack of automation are twofold:

  1. Difficulty. Some processes do not seem easily automatable.
  2. Continuous product development. If you have new and larger blades in the factory every so often, that complicates investing in automation.

That’s why the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in collaboration with LM Wind Power, has been testing a robot that allows for automating trimming, sanding, and polishing tasks of blades.

During the manufacturing of blades with “butterfly” type molds, that is, manufacturing two halves and then joining them, some excess material and burrs are produced that need to be cut, sanded, and polished. In the video below, you can see this process (the video is from Fraunhofer IWES and is unrelated to this research).

NREL has developed a robot capable of performing these tasks and has successfully tested it on various 5-meter blade sections, also publishing a paper that documents the conclusions and results.

According to the authors, the research has been successful, although there are still aspects to be improved.

Automation can reduce the manufacturing cost of blades, making them competitive worldwide even if they are manufactured in countries with expensive labor. Additionally, it also has the potential to significantly reduce human error.

Windletter #79

Sergio Fdez Munguía