World's largest 3D printer to cut wind turbine blade costs by half

Multi-million dollar research project estimates new 3D printing practices can reduce new blade development costs by 25-50%

Researchers will use the world's largest polymer 3D printer to develop recyclable wind blade moulds that reduce lead times and costs

Researchers believe a 3D printing solution could reduce lead times by at least six months and  development costs by 25-50% for wind turbine blades.

The University of Maine has been awarded a $2.8 million government grant to develop a 3D printing solution to create large, recyclable, segmented wind blade moulds.

In 2019, the university commissioned the largest polymer 3D printer in the world to compliment its wind blade testing facility – the second largest in the US.

Currently, moulds and tooling for large blades can cost more than $10 million while the moulds’ time to market of 16–20 months can stifle innovation, say researchers.

Currently, carbon fibre reinforced ABS(Acrylonitrile butadiene styren) thermoplastic feedstocks (widely used in large scale 3D printing) cost more than $11/kg The university intends to incorporate bio-based materials derived from wood, to reduce the cost of the feedstock to less than $4.4/kg.

The executive director of the university’s advanced structures and composites centre, Habib Dagher, said that the project could help drive sustainability. 

She said that by combining “cutting-edge 3D printing manufacturing with bio-based feedstocks… [m]oulds produced using these materials can be ground up and reused in other moulds, making them a more sustainable solution.”

According to the university, such bio-based materials promise mechanical properties similar to aluminum at lower fabricated costs.

In addition to the $2.8 million grant from the US Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the university will collaborate with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which recevied a $4 million award to better control mould surface temperatures.

Surface temperature control is a critical component of mould manufacturing and it is hoped that new ORNL technology enables robotic deposition of heating elements, reducing mould fabrication time and cost.

TPI Composites and Siemens Gamesa (SGRE) are partnering with the University of Maine on the project. 

They claimed a successful demonstration project will put both SGRE and TPI on track to transition the additive manufacturing solution developed by the university into real-world applications.