The deployment of automation in the wind energy industry can now move past the use of robots by the wind energy industry to paint, polish and inspect turbine blades. U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers have advanced robotic assistance for finishing processes in blade manufacturing.

New toolpath generation methods support automated trimming to remove flashing left over after bonding two blade skins together and grinding to produce a desired leading-edge shape. Robots can also perform sanding to prepare a blade for bonding over lamination.

As a KUKA robot maneuvered along a 5 m blade segment, a series of scans was applied to generate a 3D representation of the position of the blade and to identify precisely the front and rear sections of the airfoil. The automaton was then programmed to perform specific tasks, after which it was judged on accuracy and speed.

[See also: BladeRobots four times faster at inspection, maintenance of wind turbines than manual solutions]

The sanding operation was able to sand the desired 10 cm near the leading and trailing edge completely. However, room for improvement in the grinding phase was noted, leading to recommendations for use of real-time trajectory planning in future testing.

The technology described in the journal Wind Energy is expected to benefit worker safety and lower the costs of domestic wind turbine blade production.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com