Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wind Turbines Need to Lose Weight

By Gary Meyers, Product Manager – Milling

Europe uses more wind power than we do in this country. After all, they invest more in this renewable energy resource because their conventional energy costs are higher than ours. But consider what more wind power could do for us. It’s a plentiful and renewable “green” energy resource that just might help us say goodbye to fossil fuels. 

However, if the United States wants to increase its wind power manufacturing, companies will need to find ways to lower the cost of industrial wind turbines. One way is to start using weight-reducing materials when producing wind turbine components.

The heavier the wind turbine, the more expensive it is to produce, transport and install. Consider today’s 5MW wind turbine. It weighs more than a million pounds, with the nacelle, rotor hub and blades accounting for most of the weight.

If wind turbine component manufacturers started using materials with improved strength-to-weight-ratio, such as carbon fiber, compacted graphite iron, aluminum and titanium alloy, to produce the nacelle, rotor hub, and blades, they could essentially cut a large turbine’s weight in half.

There are, however, some challenges in transitioning over to these materials. For example, if a shop is currently machining rotor hubs made of ductile cast iron and wants to start using aluminum, the shop would need to update its tooling, reprogram its parts for different cutting techniques and adjust its speeds and feeds for the tooling. Another challenge is the hazardous dust that comes with machining carbon fiber materials. Shops would need to have special equipment to keep the carbon fiber particles from contaminating the air. 

But for those wind component manufacturers ready to start a weight-loss trend, Seco has extensive experience in working with carbon fiber, compacted graphite iron, aluminum and titanium alloy. After all, the company’s cutting tools have long played a role in machining these weight-reducing materials within the aerospace and power generation markets.

Such cutting tools include Seco’s Double Octomill™ that features 16 cutting edges and provides excellent cost effectiveness. It handles roughing and finishing by accurately positioning its inserts inside the cutter body pockets using high-speed steel location pins that offer easy and secure indexing. The Turbo square shoulder mill, available in four different insert sizes, provides improved tool life and precision by optimizing cutting properties that reduce heat generation and cutting forces.

Other relevant Seco tools for the wind power industry include the Steadyline™ vibration damping shell mill holders as well as a complete range of drilling, reaming and boring tools, such as Feedmax and Performax drills, X-fix reamers and the Graflex boring bar system. Plus, the company’s Duratomic® insert coating technology provides high speeds, increased cutting data, longer and more predictable tool life, a wider machining window and dramatically increased productivity.    

Wind is one of the most affordable renewable energy resources on the planet. However, in order to cultivate more wind farms in this country, a trend towards using weight-reducing materials has to happen. And manufacturers need to know they would not be alone in such a movement because Seco can help them pave the way with its optimized solutions that effectively handle weight-reducing materials.

If you would like more information on this topic, feel free to email me or get in touch with your local Seco sales representative.

About the Author
At Seco, Gary works closely with product development, marketing and field sales to effectively launch new milling products into the market as well as ensure their long-term success. Outside of work, he enjoys outdoor activities, which include running 5k and 10k races in the summer and downhill skiing in the winter.    

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