Sep 1, 2017 | By Julia

As the wind turbine industry picks up speed, one CEO is bracing himself for a bright future the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Imagine a wind turbine nacelle made of structural fabric—yes, fabric—or blades complete with metal mesh inserts. According to Philip Totaro of Totaro & Associates, the rapid advance of 3D printing technology means that such hybrid-material wind turbines are no longer the stuff of imagination. These energy savers with “sci-fi-level” performance could become reality in as soon as 2 years, he says.

“The greatest challenge for wind turbine blade structural and manufacturing engineers is to implement the idealized performance and noise mitigated designs of aerodynamics engineers,” explains Totaro. “Limitations of previous generations of manufacturing technology and the reliance on lower cost materials have limited the type of spar/shear web structures which could be utilized.” But 3D printing could be about to change all that, Totaro says.

The basic concept behind using hybrid materials is to allow for variable material density at strategic points of the blade: weight can be minimized while structural integrity is strengthened. Possible examples include using a high modulus glass or carbon for the turbine’s spar, webs, or root—points where loads are higher—while reserving a more conventional glass for the outboard. It could save untold costs, leverage existing infrastructure, and make use of new innovations all in one go.

At the same time, Totaro notes, as wind turbines continue to push the envelope in terms of power ratings and power density, rotor sizes must also grow toward previously unseen proportions. That’s precisely where 3D printing comes in.

As the challenge of implementing such hybrid-material innovations has mainly been one of cost, the advance of more advanced (and relatively inexpensive) manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing presents an invaluable opportunity for industry professionals. Although “current developments in hybrid materials and 3D printing are still in their infancy,” Totaro notes that “these advanced manufacturing techniques will allow for the integration of structural, aerodynamic and noise mitigating features.”

Metal-matrix composites, for instance, have been in widespread use within the aerospace sector for decades. Now that the cost has been reduced to an acceptable price point, however, such composites present a serious opportunity to leverage the technology and manufacturing methods for the wind energy sector.

According to Totaro, it could be a complete game-changer: “technology development is poised to have a revolutionary impact on products being introduced in the next two years,” the CEO says.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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