Orbital Composites installed a large robotic system at NREL’s Flatirons Campus, within the Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology (CoMET) facility. The NREL research team has won multiple awards from DOE to prototype and validate innovative wind turbine blade-finishing technologies.
While Orbital’s primary focus is building large-scale robotic Additive Manufacturing systems, the opportunity to work with the NREL team was too good to pass on. This project highlights Orbital’s focus on solving customers’ research priorities by building robotic systems that allow flexibility, customization, and multi-functional capabilities. The Orbital Composites team gained invaluable experience of building large automation systems during this installation. There were a few challenges that had to be overcome during the installation, including precision alignment of the Güdel track and accurate calibration of the robot and track system.
The installation includes a 2.5m reach, 300 Kg payload Kuka robot, mounted on an 8m track from Güdel. The newly installed robot will provide a larger platform for automation research, expanding NREL’s capabilities for researching blade-finishing technologies. NREL research engineer David Snowberg facilitated the implementation of this platform at CoMET.
“The composite manufacturing research team at NREL is excited to have our new robotic system, configured and installed by Orbital Composites,” said Snowberg. “The procurement and commissioning of this robotic system from Orbital Composites was a seamless partnership experience for our team. We look forward to utilizing this new robotic system in NREL’s CoMET facility for multiple research projects and continuing to build our collaboration with Orbital Composites for additional automation capabilities. We anticipate modifying the system for Additive Manufacturing applications in the future.”
The primary function of this particular Orbital production platform is to automate wind turbine blade finishing and streamline research. The Gudel track was customized to meet the requirements of the Kuka robot chosen and NREL’s safety and precision standards. The track possesses extraordinary degrees of rigidity, accuracy, and efficiency. With the ability to move robots up to 6 tons and guarantee the stability of robot motion in all directions, the track is designed for aerospace-quality production.
“Our goal is to tailor research and production equipment to the goals of our partners and customers,” said Cole Nielsen, Founder and CTO of Orbital Composites. “Robotics Automation is key to efficiency and cost-effectiveness for wind blades manufacturing, which is crucial for expanding low-cost renewable energy.”
Robotic automation is making a comeback in wind turbine blade manufacturing. In the past, the automation cost has been too high to justify broad adoption, but that is changing fast. Orbital’s goal is to deliver efficient, cost-effective automation solutions and be a critical part of the land-based and offshore wind energy supply chain, to support major forecasted growth in the industry. Orbital also plans to take the learnings from wind energy markets and apply them to Aero, Space and Infrastructure markets, where more-cost effective solutions are needed for manufacturing large composite structures.
“This project is hopefully just the beginning of our collaboration with NREL,” added Amolak Badesha, CEO of Orbital Composites. “We look forward to potential further collaborations with NREL in advancing large-scale manufacturing of wind turbine blades and helping to accelerate the deployment of wind energy in the US.”
This collaboration also promises to further Orbital and NREL’s shared goal of developing a sustainable energy future. NREL is a leader in wind turbine blade research, and Orbital is excited to support them in advancing their research goals.