Apr 27, 2018 | By David

We’ve reported before on the pioneering 3D printing work of Sandia National Laboratories, one of the Department of Energy’s main research and development facilities. Sandia has been working on improving energy technology, with a particular focus on sustainability, and 3D printing has become a key focus. 3D printed solar panels were explored last year, and the lab has been researching 3D printed wind turbines for a while now. Sandia recently won the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer’s national 2018 Technology Focus Award, for developing the first wind turbine blades fabricated from a 3D printed mold.

Wind energy is one of the most promising sources in terms of sustainability and reliability, but the turbine technology used is still imperfect. The size of the average turbine blade means that testing and prototyping can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. 3D printing could solve this issue due to its improved design flexibility and speed of production when compared to conventional casting methods.

To fabricate the turbine blades, Sandia teamed up with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a leader in the field of 3D printing, as well as TPI Composites, the nation’s largest independent manufacturer of wind turbine blades. "The wind department at Sandia has expertise in designing blades, but our group doesn’t work with additive manufacturing," said Sandia researcher Josh Paquette. "This project was an opportunity to combine expertise from two laboratories and an industry adviser that could immediately bring this knowledge into the private sector."

Using 3D printing technology enables the prototyping phase for new turbine blades to be drastically shortened. Conventional methods for making a mold were incredibly time-consuming and labour-intensive, and each new prototype mold would take around 16 months to complete, before the blade could eventually be built and tests carried out on it. 3D printing the mold instead has cut this time down to just three months.

The wind turbine that was fabricated by Sandia and partners was a relatively small one, 13 meters (42.6 ft) in length. Sandia led the design phase of producing the blade, which included an assessment of the feasibility of using additive manufacturing. TPI were consulted about the mechanical parameters, and performed the structural CAD design required to successfully mold the blade. ORNL then 3D printed the mold in several sections, in just two weeks. The final assembly and manufacturing of the blade itself was carried out at TPI.

The collaborative, digital approach enabled total production time to be reduced by over a year. In future, this will lead to a reduction in costs and create opportunities for engineers to design more freely and test their ideas more extensively. The kind of risks that could now be taken will allow for more innovation and more potential improvements in energy efficiency.

(source: Sandia) 

The winners of the Technology Focus Award were honored on April 25, 2018, at an award ceremony at the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s national meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sandia received the award for its collaborative approach to solving a pressing industry problem. Sandia was also given the FLC’s Excellence in Technology Transfer Award for advanced nanomaterial window films, which could save consumers billions in energy costs each year.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Pat Dunne wrote at 5/1/2018 11:22:17 PM:

love the "I" beam internal reinforcement webbing. nice work.

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