Wind Tower Manufacturing: From Then to Now and Our Part
Have you ever wondered when and how renewable energy went from simple windmills on farms, to wind towers dominating landscape scenery in country fields… onto floating offshore wind turbines?
The history of wind being used as a renewable energy source is fascinating. The first type of working mill in the UK dates back to 1665 when work on the Outwood Mill in Surrey began. It’s the longest working windmill in Britain to use wind energy to mechanically grind grains to produce flour. During this era, there were four types of windmills. Sunk post mills, open trestle windmills, smock mills and tower mills. Most were either used for grinding grains or as a water pump to mechanically deliver water to livestock.
It wasn’t until 1877 that the world’s first wind turbine to produce electricity was built in Scotland by an electrical engineer, Prof. James Blyth of the former Anderson’s College of Glasgow, now Strathclyde University. Prof. Blyth’s wind tower stood just over 33 feet tall. The wind turbine was the mechanical power source that used dynamo power to light his holiday home in Marykirk. Surplus power was sent to accumulators, although the excess power was offered to the town to power street lighting. Locals refused this for superstitious reasons, because back then, people thought electric was the ‘work of the devil’.
The Modern Era of Wind Tower Production
Over the years as knowledge grew and demand increased into alternative energy sources, analysis and testing show that wind towers and turbines are reliable sources of electricity by converting kinetic energy from wind into rotary mechanical energy. A generator then converts rotary energy into electricity. Analysis shows the process to have an optimal efficiency rate of 59.26% (known as the Betz Limit) with current wind towers and turbines capable of 35% to 45% efficiency in transforming wind power into usable energy.
Today’s wind towers are far larger than decades prior, capable of producing Megawatts per turbine, powering towns instead of a row of street lights.
The average size of European wind turbines of 3 MW have rotor blades spanning 50 to 100 feet in length, capable of powering up to 1,500 homes per turbine. Larger wind turbines of 7.5 MW (largest to date) have blades of 60 meters in length. In terms of height, the tallest onshore British wind turbine stands at 125 meters tall. The 8.4 MW offshore turbine located off the coast of Aberdeen dwarfs that, standing at 191 meters tall.
Increased demand for renewable energy is a huge driving force behind the large-scale production of wind farms across Europe and around the world. Of all the types of green energy, wind power is by far the most efficient in terms of manufacturing and operational costs.
In Europe alone, there are 4,149 wind turbines from 94 wind farms connected to the grid from across 11 countries generating 15,780 MW. Those numbers are set to grow as the Paris Agreement sets an ambitious target of 32% of energy to be generated by renewable sources by 2030.
Wind turbines are getting taller because winds at a higher altitude move faster, letting the turbines capture more of that kinetic energy.
To trap most of the usable energy, wind farm operators understand the importance of…
The Fabrication Requirements for Wind Tower and Turbine Manufacturing
Manufacturers are aware of the need to go large for industrial-scale renewable energy from wind turbines. Not the sort to power one home, but the types of wind turbines that can power a home in one rotation.
This requires a robust manufacturing process that can be done at scale. Whether it’s for onshore wind farms or an offshore turbine like the massive 8.4 MW turbine… heavy machinery is required.
To manufacture such towering engineering magnificence, heavy steels are used in smaller sizes of steel tubes (known as cans) usually measuring 9ft long by 8-15ft in diameter. These are processed in factories along a production/growing line requiring conventional and advanced welding done at various stages.
About Wind Tower Production Lines
Wind tower production lines use a variety of machines for automation as a way to control costs and increase weld and production quality. The machines used in a growing line for the wind energy sector have multiple types. A can roller can be used to shape metal plates of various thicknesses into steel cans. A weld rotator can then be used to mechanically turn the can, while another machine will apply an external circumferential weld to seal the can. Operators control rotation speed and monitor the quality of weld. The automation of the welding processes for both circumferential and longitudinal welds enables wind turbine manufactures to increase production and quality, while lowering overheads. Once the cans are sealed, positioners and turntables can be used as part of the production line for various weld processes, before being mechanically moved to a fit-up bed, where each can then be then be assembled, ready to transport the destination site.
The video below shows the setup and demo of how a growing line for wind turbines works.
Where Weld Automation Equipment Fits into the Process
Welding rotators are used to turn large cans, allowing welders to work in all areas at any angle of any tubular section. They can weld along both longitudinal seams and circumferentially. Automated submerged ARC welding systems allow for butt-welds to be done over multiple passes with minimal workload on the operator. Welding the outer of the cans is done with a weld-head suspended using a column and boom, automating the process of all outer welding processes.
As the height of wind turbines are increasing, thicker steels are being used in all parts of the production process. The thicker the steel is, the more intensive the welding process is on the operator, often leading to fatigue.
Wind turbine engineering is advanced and competitive. Processes need to be automated both onsite and offsite.
Redrock Automation provides the machinery wind turbine manufacturers need to streamline their operation, increase proficiency and efficiency of all welding stages while reducing operator fatigue. Additionally, it lets operators keep their eye for detail on the process, ensuring top quality welds consistently.
Where We Fit into the Wind Tower Manufacturing Processes
As experts in welding automation, Redrock provide a suite of services to wind tower manufacturers, beginning with a specialist consultation following an initial RFQ.
From the outset, we discuss project goals, then discover where we can fit in.
Some of the areas our work covers include:
- On-site consultations
- The supply and installation of equipment to improve health and safety standards
- Supply a range of specialist welding equipment to increase throughput
- Train operators on proficient use of machinery
- Service and maintain welding equipment, whether under a rental agreement or covered by an extended warranty, which is available across our product catalogue.
Our objective is always the same – To provide solutions to meet business goals. Sometimes, we roll out turnkey solutions from our workshop ready to install and train operators. Other times, projects are so unique, our engineering team will design bespoke machinery, manufactured by us to meet the demands of specific projects that require made-for-the-job machinery.
Our Part is being Partners
…Partners to provide weld automation equipment that meets and exceeds business objectives by improving productivity, working conditions and often with a fast ROI.
We are a global leader in the manufacturing, supply and installation of weld automation equipment that meets today’s demand to manufacture robust wind towers built with heavy duty steel.
We provide a full service to wind tower manufacturers beginning with a consultation, then through to the supply, installation, training of operators and maintain our equipment under rental or covered by our extended warranty.
With branches strategically located around the world, Redrock are the ONE STOP SHOP for wind tower manufacturers. A go-to resource for automated weld solutions.