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Industrial production instead of manufactory: In the “BladeMaker” project, Siemens and 14 other industrial and research partners are researching which processes can be automated in the manufacture of rotor blades.
© Siemens
Fraunhofer IWES´ project "BladeMaker"
30.01.2013

Until now rotor blades have been produced almost completely manually. Two moulds or blade halves are reinforced with fibreglass or carbon fibre matting.
© Siemens

Automatic production of rotor blades

Until now rotor blades have been produced almost completely manually. In order to manufacture them more cheaply, it is now intended to automate this process. The Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology IWES is therefore investigating concepts and technologies for this purpose. In the “BladeMaker” project, the manufacturers want to determine where automation is viable and how rotor blades must be constructed to achieve this.

Rotor blades account for around one quarter of the overall cost of a wind turbine. In the “BladeMaker” project, researchers are working on automating their manufacture. The intention is to enable rotor blades to be produced more cost-effectively, quickly and with a better quality, whereby the aim is to reduce the production costs by ten per cent. Fifteen industrial and research partners are involved in the project. “In international competition, the rotor blade manufacturers are subject to enormous cost pressures, which we want to counter with automation,” explains project leader Florian Sayer from Fraunhofer IWES.

The Fraunhofer scientists are initially analysing all working steps in the rotor blade production and are estimating the automation potential. “We will first of all design a reference blade and in doing so define the production-based properties,” says the project leader in describing the process. At the same time the researchers are determining the requirements for the automation technology. The first part of the project, the hardware for the process automation, is set to be completed by the end of 2014. The scientists will then develop the process technology. The aim is to reduce the production expenditure, increase the quality and save on materials.

It is also planned to establish a demonstration centre, which in the long term can provide both a national and international point of research and development in rotor blade production. The “BladeMaker” project will run until the end of 2017. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is funding the project with around eight million euros.

Rotor blade production is currently manual

The state of the art in rotor blade production is the so-called vacuum infusion process. Here two moulds or blade halves are reinforced with glass fibre or carbon fibre matting. This working step is conducted almost completely manually. A vacuum is then created and resin is injected that bonds the matting. Once this has hardened the two halves are pieced together to form a blade and are then varnished.

The BINE-Projektinfo brochure “The time machine for rotor blades” (15/2011) describes how rotor blades up to 90 metres in length are tested in structural and dynamic terms. A new kind of tilting stand, on which the rotor blade is fixed for the tests, bends the blades by up to 30 metres in a vertical direction and structurally loads them with 180 tonnes.

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