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3D Printed Molds Save the Department of Energy Time and Money on Wind Energy

by • August 7, 2016 • No Comments

wind-turbines17It is comical how frequently it appears that when you start researching or exploring a particular thought, that thought or element suddenly appears to show up eachwhere, whether you are looking for it or not. Lately I’ve been studying 3D printing’s uses in alternative energy production and other sustainability efforts, and those efforts seem to be ramping up at an increasing pace – each time I turn around, there’s an announcement of a new turn it intoment or novel innovation in the race to slow climate alter.

Last week, the big news on the alternative energy front was a collaboration between Lawrence Liveradditional National Laboratory and Giant Leap Technologies to turn it into sophisticated 3D printed microfluidic solar cells that may generate additional power than current solar power plants, with less cost and less material. The project is being funded by a grant of the US Department of Energy, and this week the department has revealed their own 3D printing project, this time directed at wind turbines.

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office is a division dedicated to the turn it intoment of environmentally and economically sustainable innovation via the newest manufacturing methods – such as 3D printing. Working with partners that include industry representatives, tiny businesses and universities, they’ve been responsible for the creation and commercialization of hundreds of energy-saving industrial technologies.

download (24)Wind energy is a big priority for the Department of Energy and other clean energy-focused organizations right now, and the Advanced Manufacturing Office is collaborating with three of the largest of those organizations: Sandia National Laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and TPI Composites Inc. Sandia, a Department of Energy contractor, has been working to improve existing wind power innovation through research at their Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) facility, and a few months ago they launched a project exploring 3D printing as an effective way to make advantageous, additional efficient wind turbine blades.

3D printing appeals to wind turbine makers for the same reason it appeals to other industries: it’s a much less expensive way to turn it into an otherwise pricey innovation. Right now, the Advanced Manufacturing Office is looking at 3D printing for the creation of turbine molds – quite big turbine molds.

The office has borrowed the Big Area Additive Manufacturing Machine (BAAM), a massive and massively swift 3D printing device turn it intoed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati Inc. Vastly larger and up to 1,000 times swifter than the average FDM 3D printing device, BAAM is the ideal machine for the prototyping of six-foot-tall wind turbine molds. Whilst the blades themselves aren’t being 3D printed at the moment, the mold for them is turn it intod in CAD and optimized for 3D printing, with showcases such as heating air ductwork and assembly holes being incorporated into the turn it into.



Once the mold is 3D printed, a layer of fiberglass laminate is applied to it to turn it into the actual blade, that is and so machined to turn it into a custom shape. Each of the mold segments is installed on a frame, where a hot air blower is introduced in lieu of embedded heating wires, that are traditionally introduced by hand in an expensive, labor- and energy-intensive system. The blade segments are and so patched together, with the introduced bonus that the hot air blower can be reused for next mold assemblies.

Combined with the work of Sandia and other alternative energy research and turn it intoment organizations, wind turbine innovation continues to advance quickly. 3D printing a mold may not seem like a massive deal, but in terms of the reduced cost and time required for the production of individual components, it’s another step towards manufacturing green energy equivalent to – or advantageous than – current energy production methods, in both cost and effectiveness.

[Source: Composites Manufacturing]