Transforming Wind Turbine Blade Mold Manufacturing with 3D Printing
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The thinking was, “Can we do something disruptive in a way that we could really bring a value add to what we have today in the economic manufacturing present of our country?”
And 3-D manufacturing, or additive manufacturing, seemed like a very attractive option to explore because it brings a new way of thinking for these large products. And why we picked wind turbine blades is that they’re very labor intensive, primarily done by hand labor of depositing large amounts of composite material, but the molds themselves are quite costly and timely to make.
Can we take advantage of the ability to crate of mold more cost effectively and quicker?
What we are finding is that the opportunities and the benefits seem to be real and that’s what we’re validating together.
We’re really going big. We’re trying to go and make very large structures. They are limited by the size at which you can get these parts down a roadway.
People see this number every day: 14 feet, 6 inches. That’s the height of a bridge. You can’t make a part bigger than that and then ship it down the roadway. So what we need to be able to do is say, “Hey, can we take the printer, put it out where you need the part and potentially be able to build onsite?”
So we challenged some of our scientists saying, “Why can’t we take what would be a 3-D printer to build a part that’s, you know, the size of my glasses, and build a printer that can cost effectively and in a timely fashion, build something that’s half the size of a football field?”
Now we’re seeing an ecosystem of these large area 3-D printing companies that are starting to crop up over the last 12 to 18 months as a result of this research and development project. It’s opening up what’s possible out there. It’s really going to have that big “bam” in the industry.
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