Turbine Blade Sanding Application Borrows from Aerospace Industry

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Growing demand for wind power creates production demand that wind blade manufacturers can address by increasing capacity in one of three ways: 1) Hire more people; 2) Build another factory and hire more people; or 3) boost productivity with current people and facilities.

The last of these is worth our focus because it holds the most promise of boosting productivity with the least disruption and at the lowest cost. When discussing productivity challenges associated with large composite surfaces like wind turbine blades, sanding is one of the major issues crying out for improvement because each blade is so large, and the whole surface typically has to be sanded twice before final paint.

Some of the smartest investments in technology start by asking what other markets — in this case other composite-intensive markets like aerospace and marine — have proven works well to address the same problem. One aerospace technology now available to improve wind blade finishing operations was born at Boeing more than ten years ago, and is currently deployed by almost every major aerospace manufacturer – EMMA™ Sanding Systems from Temple Allen Industries.

EMMA was created in 2003 focused on the needs of the upcoming 787 program to prepare composite surfaces prior to the application of final paint. A major driving force behind the development of EMMA was the poor ergonomics of manual sanding. Humans are simply not built to wield a heavy vibrating tool for an eight-hour shift, particularly out in front of the worker or over their head. With EMMA, workers stand comfortably and wield a joystick, and the EMMA Arm applies a consistent force against the surface to be sanded while the End Effector — deploying virtually any desired sanding or grinding tool — keeps the abrasive disc flat on the surface minimizing dust exposure and maximizing finish quality. Particulates are routed into a disposable 3M Clean Sanding Filter Bag, keeping the workplace clean.

For Wind Turbine Blade surface finishing operations, the EMMA configuration getting the most traction is their Telescoping Stand System (EMMA TSS). For times when the blade is held vertically or diagonally, the TSS configuration allows operators to conduct edge grinding or full surface abrasion, from near ground level to about 10’ high.

The first EMMA installation was in the 737 Rudder Shop in Renton, Washington where they conducted sanding operations that were known to put workers at risk of injury. Since EMMA was installed, there have been no process-related injuries, and workers injured while working elsewhere in the facility have sometimes been reassigned to the Rudder Shop in order to heal. Process time for each sanding step has also been reduced. In addition to the health and safety gains, the EMMA-equipped shop was able to seemlessly accommodate Boeing’s regular rate increases for the 737 program — which is now building more than 40 aircraft a month, up from approximately 18 a month the year EMMA was installed.

Management considerations of new technology always include questions about implementation. Unlike full-automation initiatives (e.g. installing robots) which often require shutting down a process line for days or weeks and require significant facility modifications, EMMA rolls out onto the factory floor, plugs into an air line, and is ready to go to work, and an operator can be fully trained in a matter of hours.

As capital equipment, EMMA TSS units are particularly flexible — nothing is bolted to the floor and EMMA can simply roll from one process line to another as required. They are also dramatically less expensive than robots configured for surface treatment operations.
For more information, visit Temple Allen Industries online at www.templeallen.com, or call (301) 541-3662.  

— Source: Temple Allen