When the assembly line was introduced to the automobile industry, everything changed. Cars were produced in less time with fewer errors, and each one was exactly the same as the last. As a result, the industry boomed.
Astraeus Wind LLC hopes to bring this type of success to wind turbine manufacturing by standardizing the blade manufacturing process. The company wants to experiment with new materials to strengthen the blades while creating an automated process to assemble them, creating identical blades in a fast, efficient manner.
CEO Jeff Metts says standardizing this process will help ensure each blade has the same measurements, lower the amount of time needed for production and alleviate the chance of human error. The company also plans to research carbon-fiber blades as an alternative to fiberglass.
Although it’s been around for centuries, Astraeus sees wind power in its infancy in terms of manufacturing.
For Jeff, it would be “amazing to do these things with such precision and take this blade technology to the next level. We’re just right at the beginning now.”
In addition to blade production, Astraeus is using money from the Recovery Act to modify the way that the hubs — the central part of the wind turbine that is responsible for rotating the blades — are manufactured by creating large machinery that would expedite the hub machining process significantly.
Currently, the average hub takes 20 to 25 hours to manufacture, and Astraeus hopes to bring it down to four.
“We’re looking to take the bottle necks out of the supply chain,” says John Truscott, executive vice president at Astraeus. “Hubs are really important to the turbine building process, and we’ll be able to produce them at a very rapid rate with very high quality.”
The company, a new venture between Michigan’s MAG Industrial Automation Systems and Dowding Machining LLC, will be able to rely on its partners for space and equipment. For now, the company is based in Lansing, Mich., but will relocate to a nearby Dowding Industries plant when the machinery for the hubs is completed.
For Astraeus, a major part of the project is bringing wind technology to Michigan. Jeff hopes Astraeus will help create awareness and a lot of economic activity for the state. “To produce 3,000 blades a year will take a million square feet of manufacturing space,” Jeff explains. “There’s not many factories that have the space to employ hundreds of people, but this will have that capacity.”
In the next few years, John and Jeff estimate that Astraeus could create hundreds of jobs for the mid-Michigan region, and hope to open up to four plants in the future, creating thousands of jobs in the state.
“We’re all Michigan guys,” John says. “The state’s going through some tough times…this is a way to help a home state that’s been good to us.”
Jeff says manufacturing is helping lead the state out of the economic downturn, adding, “We take nothing and make it something — it’s a huge part of the economy.”