Profile: 3M Wind Energy

Continuing its longstanding tradition of innovation, 3M takes the approach of direct collaboration with the industry in developing its wind energy solutions

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At the dawn of the last century, a group of investors pooled their resources and starting a mining operation in Minnesota. The group was looking for corundum, a valuable mineral used in abrasives.
The mining efforts fell short of expectations when it turned out the mine contained anorthosite — a different mineral which didn’t fit the intended applications.

Instead of corundum, the investors were left with a conundrum. The group had to re-focus and innovate, or face financial ruin. Over the next decade or so, the company actively sought out the applicational needs of its customers in the abrasives industry and implemented a problem-based approach to meeting those needs.
That spirit of innovation and application-based approach are still apparent today for the company orginally known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now simply 3M. Throughout more than a century, the company has grown into a $30 billion-plus global giant, with a product portfolio ranging from high-tech health care to home arts-and-crafts to the wind energy industry.

“We are a materials company. We come up with material solutions for the customer,” said Santhosh Krishna Chandrabalan, technical business development leader with 3M’s Renewable Energy division. “When there is a particular need with a customer, we partner with the customer to understand what their needs are, and we can actually develop the right materials or solutions for them for that particular market.”
The renewable energy division of 3M was built on that philosophy. While the company’s products had been used by customers in the renewable energy field for some time, in 2009, near the onset of rapid growth in the wind industry, the company saw the need to have a dedicated segment of its organization specifically to serve the needs of those customers.

“We are always looking at new technologies and new markets — areas where we can add significant value,” Chandrabalan said. “Even though we were active in the renewable energy area for a very long time, we wanted to bring focus to this market area. In 2009, the Renewable Energy division was started, bringing all different pieces together.”
Renewable energy is one of 3M’s 27 business divisions. Although it may seem to some that it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle and bureaucracy of a multinational corporation, Chandrabalan said the division’s customers have quite the opposite experience. This is because the company’s divisions operate with a high degree of autonomy.

“We are a very large company. However, every division is run mostly on its own,” Chandrabalan said. ”We do have direction. We have a global strategy. But many times, for example, if the renewable energy division is launching a product, that is actually done by my division. It is not going beyond there. We are able to act quickly to a customer need, and we are able to solve those problems much easier than a very large company where the decisions need to go to the corporate level.”

It’s that kind of collaborative mindset — both with customers as well as with the many other divisions within the company — that allows 3M to continue along its long-held tradition of innovation.

“We partner with others in the industry — all the way from turbine manufacturers to the wind farm owners — to solve a particular problem,” Chandrabalan said. “We are an industry leader in leading edge protection. When there’s a problem, we don’t go and just fix it, too. We educate the market. In leading edge protection, we were the pioneers to understanding leading edge erosion, its effects on the blades, and possible outcomes. We were able to come up with a solution to those issues. This is just one example of how 3M is far more than a materials supplier. We partner to be able to solve a particular need, and then we go from there.”
3M’s products and applications for the wind energy industry are generally separated into three categories: blade, nacelle, and tower.

Rotor blades make up largest category of these products, and represent the renwable energy divisions primary focus. These products are further subdivided into surface solutions, manufacturing process aids, and structure solutions. Individual products include specialized tapes, foam tapes, coatings, fillers, adhesives, and threadlockers.

Many of these products are cross-category in nature, and have similar applications in the nacelle and on the tower. These include electrical splices, electrical tape, wire management, and sealants, among others.
For a complete listing of 3M’s products for wind energy applications, see the sidebar that accompanies this article.

For more information about 3M’s solutions for the wind energy industry, visit http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Wind/Energy/.

3M Wind Energy Products

Operations & Maintenance
• Wind Protection Tapes
• Wind Fillers
• Acrylic Foam Tape
• Clean Sanding System

Manufacturing & Design
• Wind Blade Protection Coating W4600
• Wind Protection Tapes
• Wind Blade Bonding Adhesive W1101
• Wind Structural Adhesives
• Wind Threadlockers
• Dry Layup Adhesive
• Wind Sealants
• Acrylic Foam Tape
• Diamond Cutoff Wheels
• Clean Sanding System

Installation
• Cold Shrink Splices
• Cold Shrink Terminations
• Premium Electrical Tapes
• Cable Grounding Kits
• Wire Management and Marking Supplies
• Detectable Buried Barricade Tapes
• Locators and Markers

Safety
• Safety-Walk™ Materials
• Filtering Facepiece Respirators
• Half and Full Facepiece Respirators
• Powered and Supplied Air Respirators
• Hearing Protection
• Eye Protection
• Head and Face Protection
• Peltor™ Communications
• Fall Protection
• Speedglas™ Auto-Darkening Filters and Helmets
• Sorbents

— Source: 3M