Editorial Feature

Hybrid 3D Printing and its Applications in Wind Energy

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Hybrid three-dimensional (3D) printing technologies offers users a wide range of advantages that have been shown to address any limitations that previously existed with traditional 3D printing processes. As a technology that combines the principles of both additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive manufacturing (SM), hybrid 3D printing is particularly useful as a result of its ability to utilize a wide variety of materials while maintaining exceptional strength and finish properties in printed products as compared to previously employed AM or SM methods1. Within the wind energy sector, hybrid 3D printed materials, such as turbine blades, have been shown to exhibit improved performance and structural characteristics.

Addressing the Challenges of the Wind Energy Sector

As a clean and renewable source of energy, wind energy A typical wind turbine is comprised of a tall tower, a 3-blade rotor and a nacelle that is used as a housing unit to store all generators and required electrical conversion equipment. One of the biggest drawbacks associated with producing wind energy turbines and all involved components involves the labor-intensive nature and high costs associated with these production processes. Furthermore, manufacturers are also interested in developing wind turbine blades that exhibit ideal performance rates while reducing the amount of noise associated with these structures during their operation.

To address these concerns, hybrid 3D printed materials have been shown to allow for variable material density to exist at various different points within the wind turbine blade. As a result of these density differences within the blade, the overall weight of the structure can be reduced while improving the overall strength of the blade’s structural integrity. Some design options for wind turbine blade hybrid materials include:

  • HM Glass Root
    • Glass outboard
  • Carbon Root
    • Glass or fabric outboard
  • Metal Matrix Composite Root
    • Glass or fabric outboard2

Increasing the Size and Production of Wind Turbines

Hybrid 3D printing offers the ability to not only increase the overall strength of wind turbine blades as a result of its improved design components, but also increase the overall size of these structures to achieve greater energy absorption in the process. To this end, a group of researchers comprised of both government and industry personnel utilized this technology to develop a wind turbine blade mold that is expected to increase the rate of blade design production while also significantly reducing the costs and time associated with developing these larger blade molds.

Through the use of the Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine (BAAM), which is located at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, these researchers have been able to develop a system capable of printing components that are up to 10 times larger than that which is produced by traditional 3D printers. Furthermore, the BAAM has also been shown to 3D print at rates that are up to 1,000 times faster than other industrial additive manufacturing machines.

The BAAM production process begins with the researcher designing the specific blade mold through the computer software that is then provided to the BAAM to print the mold which is composed of carbon fiber composite pellets. Once the BAAM melts the pellets, a printing nozzle is used to expel the carbon material as layers that are based on the computer design. At a layer length of approximately 1.8 meters each, it is estimated that every mold segment requires about 8 hours to print completely3. Once the mold has been printed, a layer of fiberglass is laminated onto its surface and eventually trimmed to achieve a smooth layer for the blade. By reducing up to 35% of manufacturing time, this rapid production rate for wind energy components can play a significant role in improving the utilization of wind energy in a number of different sectors3.

References

  1. “Hybrid 3D Printing in Aerospace Industry”
  2. “3D printing poised to explode in wind turbine industry” – 3ders.org
  3. “Transforming Win Turbine Blade Mold Manufacturing with 3D Printing” – United States Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine, which are two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are currently used in anticancer therapy.

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