Orbital Composites is using robots to 3D print giant wind turbine blades
One of the challenges of building a new wind farm is transportation: If a wind turbine blade is 200 feet long, or even longer, it can’t easily travel down highways. In fact, moving a wind turbine can take a year of planning.
The difficulty of delivery pushes up the cost of wind power. But one startup has designed a system to use 3D printing and robotics to manufacture wind turbines in the place where they will be used. “We want to be able to manufacture the foundation, the tower, and the blades all on-site, which is a radical shift from how it’s done today,” says Amolak Badesha, CEO of the startup, called Orbital Composites. Orbital Composites already uses its technology to print drones and satellite parts. To make blades for a wind turbine, it will 3D-print a giant mold, and then print the blade inside the mold. All of the equipment can be delivered to a site in shipping containers.
The company developed new tech that allows it to print composite materials at high speeds. Right now, the wind industry uses labor-intensive manufacturing techniques. “Most people don’t know this, but we actually have zero wind blade factories left in the U.S.,” Badesha says. “We used to have more, but they’ve all been offshored because of how manual this process is.” (To qualify for incentives for domestic manufacturing, he says, some companies bring the blades to the U.S. only for sanding and painting.)