MAG system automates wind blade manufacturing

The Rapid Material Placement System is an automated blade molding facility capable of spraying in-mold coatings, dispensing/lay-up of glass and carbon fiber materials and applying adhesive.

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MAG (Hebron, Ky., USA) is introducing at the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) WINDPOWER 2009 show, May 4-6 in Chicago, Ill., a new system that allows for the automated manufacture of composite wind blades. The company's new Rapid Material Placement System (RMPS) and quick-cure molding system for wind blades reportedly combine to reduce labor content by two-thirds and double throughput.

RMPS is an automated blade molding facility unto itself, capable of spraying in-mold coatings, dispensing/lay-up of glass and carbon fiber materials and applying of adhesive. It offers 3 m/sec (10 ft/sec) lay-up speed for placement of materials in blade skin, spar cap, and sheer web molds, with laser- and vision-based wrinkle detection in cross or longitudinal directions. Depending on the laminate schedule, the system can reduce lay-up time 85 percent on a 45m/148 ft blade.

Programmed off line, the CNC-controlled system consists of a gantry system with multi-axis end effectors capable of manipulating spray heads and adhesive applicators, as well as tooling for spooling and placing materials. After application of gel-coat with spray-head tooling, a ply-generator with a 10-roll magazine of material cuts and dispenses plies to the lay-up end effector on the gantry. The lay-up end effector spools up the material supplied by the ply generator. As the fabric is paid out onto the mold, a pair of articulating powered brushes smoothes it to the tool surface. The lay-up system is mechanically repeatable to ±2 mm, with application tolerance of ±5 mm.

Two gantry systems adjacent to one another can each produce a 45m blade shell half in less than 2 hours, with half the manual labor of conventional methods. The gantry system rides on rails that are flush with the floor. It also carries bulk supply systems for gel-coat and adhesive. The RMPS is controlled by a CNC and powered with programmable drives and servomotors. Offline programming software developed by MAG creates the CNC code from imported CAD data.

MAG has also developed a new, patent-pending quick-cure mold system using tooling it will supply. The molds are produced using the customer's CAD data. The system reportedly yields a finished blade to spec with each cycle. It can be infused with resin in an hour, followed by a 2-hour cure — about half the normal time. At the show, MAG will exhibit sample parts representing a 100-mm-thick root section and root spar cap system. The latter will show three zones of material and three thicknesses, demonstrating the system can infuse and cure all three zones at the same time. Like the lay-up system, the infusion/curing system includes process control metrics for resin metering, temperatures, blocked channels, etc., with alarm limits.

On the finishing side of blade automation, MAG will introduce a five-axis machining system for root drilling/milling/sawing.