As the US finally moves into manufacturing our own clean energy, a new kind of engineering is starting to move to the forefront. Manufacturing processes engineering. Under the direction of associate professor Vinay Dayal; Iowa State U students are trying to find the way to make wind turbines roll off US assembly lines more efficiently. If we can work out cheap production processes here, we can build parts here.
The university is using a $6.3 million fund from the US Department of Energy, TPI, and and the Iowa Power Fund and has the assistance of scientists from Sandia National Labs and TPI, which operates a local turbine blade factory. Initially they are trying to see how they can boost the speed of the manufacturing process by increasing automation and by automating quality control.
They could improve the productivity of turbine blade factories by as much as 35%.
The researchers at Iowa State’s new Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory are using Dayal’s aerospace engineering expertize to develop new, cheap and efficient ways to manufacture turbines.
They are using miniature versions of the giant molds used to manufacture fiberglass turbine blades. Each blade can be 50 meters long and weigh up to 15,000 pounds, yet it must be built within millimeters of specifications.
Quality control is key. Blades must be able to withstand 20 years of harsh real world conditions and handle rotation speeds of up to 200 miles an hour at the tip. One way is to find a way to inspect the performance of parts accurately without taking them apart. Faster and better inspections improve factory efficiency.
Iowa State may be no MIT, but remember that Iowa is actually now the nation’s leader in the percentage of wind energy it supplies to the grid (Source) and research like this can bring clean energy manufacturing to local states. The closer that huge turbine production is to installation regions, the lower the carbon footprint.
This is an example of the variety of new regional jobs that will multiply once we pass energy legislation that puts a price on pollution with the Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act. As we start to build more clean energy here at home, aerospace engineering instructors and industrial manufacturing systems engineers can also use their skills to help birth the new green economy.
Image: Flikr user Jeannette Greaves
Source: Iowa State University News
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