MAG, Dowding join forces to automate wind composites manufacture

The joint venture firm, called Astraeus, will use MAG's Rapid Material Placement System to automate wind blade manufacturing.

MAG Industrial Automation Systems (Hebron, Ky., USA) and Dowding Machining LLC (East Rapids, Mich., USA) announced on Oct. 26 a joint effort to "revolutionize" manufacturing of wind turbine components with specially-designed CNC modules for the production of hubs, and new automated technology for composite wind blade production. The joint venture, dubbed Astraeus, from the Greek mythological "father of the four winds," will be based in Sterling, Mich.

The company will use a unique new machine design to reduce the production times of turbine hubs, the large castings to which the blades are attached, to about four hours – a process that now typically takes 20 to 24 hours on the best production lines. In what will be the first implementation of MAG's Rapid Material Placement System (RMPS), the new company will bring integrated manufacturing, with automation and repeatable process control, to composite wind blade fabrication — a process that has historically been manual, making blades prone to imperfections and weight variations, and exposing wind turbine manufacturers to warranty and replacement costs.

The new business unites MAG, a maker of machine tools and aerospace composites, and Dowding Machining, a large-component precision machining operation, in an effort to make wind energy more cost-competitive as an alternative energy solution. "We've already seen significant interest in our capabilities from Asian and European companies," said Jeff Metts, president of Dowding Machining. Plans for Astraeus include opening global facilities to supply worldwide demand.

Management and organization of Astraeus will be announced by the end of the year, with production expected to ramp up very quickly. "We plan on producing some of the components by the middle of next year," said Roger Cope, president of the Strategic Business Development Group of MAG.