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3D Printing Used to Cut Wind Power Costs

11 Aug 09:00 by Steve Walia

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A new 3D printing approach has helped the American Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) to cut its wind energy turbine manufacture costs by printing huge blades in sections up to six feet high.

With costs always being a key factor in the adoption of renewables, the 3D printing innovation is a powerful one. Wind turbine blades are becoming bigger than ever and are now already commonly more than 40 feet long. By producing these in sections, a complete blade can be cast in a more effective way. As well as providing the opportunity for reduced renewable manufacturing costs, the innovation proves the potential of 3D printing on a vast scale.

The AMO is part of the US government's Department of Energy and exists to bring fresh manufacturing solutions to green energy projects. 

The innovative new turbine production method was created to mark Global Wind Day, which was on 15 June, showing that the wind power sector still has plenty of scope ahead to develop innovative manufacturing options.

3D printing offers the chance for manufacturers to precision-produce component parts at speed, reducing lead times and waste and offering a very flexible design. The technology has also evolved rapidly, with the systems themselves rapidly growing in size. The version used for this test project is located at a government manufacturing test facility and operates up to 1000 times quicker than the vast majority of existing 3D printers. 

The researchers created CAD models of the blade and cut it into printable areas of up to six feet each. Each section was covered in laminate fibreglass and smoothed down to make a compatible part. The mould segments were then coupled using air heating techniques, and the ultimate gigantic mould is smooth, vacuum-tight at the joins and very even.