ABB Robotics Makes Wind Turbine Manufacturing More Efficient (Switzerland)

ABB’s robot-based surface finishing concept for wind turbine rotor blades reduces paint shop energy consumption by up to 60 percent and paint consumption by 25 percent compared to alternative methods of applying surface coatings. Most importantly, it provides a perfectly applied layer of protection for one of the most demanding operating environments on earth.

Few mechanical components are subjected to the same continuous levels of stress and environmental attack as wind turbine rotor blades.

Each of the three blades on a turbine can be up to 70 meters long, 5 meters wide at the hub and weigh around 15 tons. In strong winds the blade tips can spin through the air at speeds of up to 320 km/h, exerting huge pressure on the nacelle and tower with each rotation. And in offshore environments the effects of salt, sand, spray and ice can be devastating.

To protect the blades from mechanical stress and moisture penetration they require a special surface coating that has to be perfectly applied with micrometer precision at the specified thickness and smoothness. Poor finishing will lead to surface fatigue, blade degradation and reduced turbine output. The cost and logistical complexity of repairing or replacing a rotor blade, especially at sea, is huge.

To minimize these risks ABB has developed a fully automated robot-based concept that applies the coating with micrometer precision while sharply reducing the paint shop’s energy and paint consumption. The concept is available in either a stationary or mobile variant, to meet the needs of both large-scale and smaller scale manufacturers.

In the stationary option, two IRB 5400 paint robots inside the painting booth move on horizontal rails alongside the blade, which remains stationary in the booth. In the mobile variant, the entire paint booth itself (called a portal) moves down a giant blade; paint robots fixed to the portal spray the surface of the blade. Conventional paint shops can account for as much as half the energy consumption of a production facility, because they require vast quantities of air that has to be heated, circulated and extracted as frequently as once an hour to remove the chemicals and prevent explosive gases from forming.

The ABB solution, on the other hand, combines a highly compact footprint with a uniquely energy-efficient ventilation system that extracts the chemicals and recycles 95 percent of the air, thus reducing energy consumption to a minimum.

ABB initially developed the stationary variant for one of the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers, and it has been successfully painting blades up to 50 meters long at the company’s manufacturing facilities in Europe.

Building on the success of the concept, ABB has since developed a mobile portal-based variant that can paint even longer rotor blades of 80 meters or more in length. The portal is self-contained with all process equipment onboard, and has a remarkable productivity rate, about four times that of a manual paint shop.

The portal was singled out earlier this year for one of the world’s most prestigious robotics awards, and is already generating interest in other paint applications, including aircraft fuselages and wings, railway rolling stock and other large single-structure components.


Source: abb, December 27, 2010