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Bigger turbines, fewer skilled workers: The future of wind tower manufacturing

Nov 25, 2019 | Discover, News, Wind Energy

Wind is currently the most rapidly growing renewable energy source. Due to the increasing need for sustainably generated energy, the demands for onshore and offshore wind towers are getting higher.

Bigger and larger

As the global emission regulations get constantly tighter, the need for more powerful renewable energy is truly becoming prominent. Out of all the currently available renewable energy resources, it has been statistically measured that wind is by far the fastest-growing energy source for sustainable energy. The reasons for the rapid growth are mainly its cost-effectiveness, consistency, environment friendliness, and the ability to create a vast amount of new jobs.

Without a question, the growing need for wind energy has been starting to create new kinds of demands for the onshore and offshore wind tower structures. A decade back, the heaviest offshore foundation could weight 300-400 t. Today, the plan is to manufacture as heavy as 3,000-4,000 t. foundations. In such a short period of time, the growth has been tremendous.

In the future, more energy will be generated from the powerful offshore winds. This set higher requirements for the offshore foundations.

In future wind towers, the turbines are bigger, the blades are longer, and materials are thicker. Additionally, in order for the turbines to reach more powerful and consistent winds, located more up in the air, the towers need to be built higher. Naturally, these structural developments require more from the foundations, too. The jackets, monopiles, and transition pieces need to be supported deeper in the seabed, while the foundations need to be stiffer and stronger.

” A decade back, the heaviest offshore foundation could weight 300-400 t. Today, the plan is to manufacture as heavy as 3,000-4,000 t. foundations.”

Lack of skilled welders

Another factor that reforms the future of wind tower manufacturing is the lack of skilled welders. As the years go by, fewer skilled people are available neither for the welding nor other production-related hands-on jobs.

Welding is a crucial part of a wide range of industries, such as shipbuilding, military applications, mobile machinery, civil construction, and renewable energy. Despite the fact that there would be a lot job opportunities available for skilled welders, the field will face a deficit of 400,000 by the year 2024 (American Welding Society). Currently, the average age of a welder is 55, so the big retirement wave is still on its way. As the retirement wave comes, there are not enough young and skilled welders to replace them.

Automated production line for tower production. Modern welding line tackles futures manufacturing challenges.

Rethinking production

The emerging trends raise new kinds of questions for onshore and offshore tower manufacturers: How to handle or assemble large and heavy shells to high-quality sections? How the flanges can be fitted without compromising working safety? As the material thicknesses grow, how to gain precise groove preparations and high-quality welds? Where to find skilled workforce to do all this?

Automating welding and production is one of the key solutions to tackle future challenges. It is clear that the decision to make the shift from manual to automated welding is not easy, but it is something that will pay off. When teaming up with a production solution provider that gives profound support all the way from modeling to production and process planning, a smooth and beneficial outcome is guaranteed.

Flange fitting station enables safe and stable flange fitting for wind towers.

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