Partnership Brings Large-Scale 3D Printing To Off-Shore Wind Turbines

Trio to optimize production of key casting components for GE’s Haliade-X off-shore turbine near wind project site.

Trio to optimize production of key casting components for GE’s Haliade-X off-shore turbine near wind project site.

The ACC printer will be designed to print molds for key components of wind turbines, with sizes up 9.5 meters in diameter and 30 to 60 tons in weight. Image Courtesy of GE Renewable Energy

Spend any time on major highways and it’s likely you encounter a convey of flatbed trucks transporting large-scale wind turbine blades and other components to their final destination. But as the sheer size of turbines increase and they are channeled to distant off-shore wind farms, industry players are looking for a smarter and more efficient way to build and deliver the goods.

Three major players—GE Renewable Energy, Fraunhofer IGCV, and voxeljet AG—are now coming together to develop what they claim will be the world’s largest sand binder jetting 3D printer to tackle offshore wind turbine builds, specifically production of key components in GE’s Haliade-X offshore wind turbine. Now under development, the Advance Casting Cell (ACC) 3D printer is being designed to print cast components for the nacelle of the GE Haliade-X, the housing unit atop a wind generator that contains the mechanical components. The mold for the nacelle can weight more than 60 metric tons and measure up to 9.5 meters in diameter—a significant challenge to produce let alone transport to a remote location.

The ACC large format printer will produce sand molds for casting the highly complex metal parts that comprise the nacelle, which come in numerous shapes and sizes. The modular printing process will be based on voxeljet’s core binder jetting technology, which promises to deliver improved surface finishes, part accuracy, and consistency. “The unprecedented production technology will be a game changer for production efficiency, allowing localized manufacturing in high-cost countries—a key benefit for our customers looking to maximize the local economic development benefits of offshore wind,” said Juan Pablo Cilia, senior additive design engineer at GE Renewables Energy, in a press release.

Not only does the 3D printing technology cut production for creating the pattern and molds from 10 weeks or more to two weeks, it also takes aim at the carbon footprint associated with the development and transport of such large componentry. Because the ACC is being designed to output the molds and parts directly near the offshore wind farms, there is no need to transport large parts from a central manufacturing location, helping to improve the environmental footprint of wind farms.

For its part, the Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV will take responsibility for refining the casting and materials technology, including thermal management, as well as mapping out new digital processes designed to help conserve resources. “We aim to optimize the mold printing to avoid extremely costly misprints or miscasts,” said Dr. Daniel Gunther, head of department molding processes and molding materials at Fraunhofer IGCV. “By developing a process that conserves resources as much as possible, we want to help improve the environmental and cost balance in the manufacture of wind turbines.”

The partners expect to launch the 3D printing product during this year’s third quarter with initial print trials beginning in early 2022.

Watch this video to see other ways GE Renewable Energy and partners are leveraging 3D printing technologies to improve and accelerate wind turbine designs.

More Voxeljet Coverage

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Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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