Video plant tour: The heart of a wind turbine
The slow and graceful rotation of a wind turbine hides the hard work and huge stresses on the mechanical components and structure. The speed-increasing gearbox handles all the torque in constantly changing conditions. See how they're built.
When you watch a wind turbine turn gracefully in the distance, here are some things to think about. The nacelle is probably 450 ft. off the ground and the diameter of the blades is around 300 ft. When those blades are turning at 20 to 25 rpm, you can imagine the torque on the shaft. Moreover, the output of one of those turbines is probably at least 1.5 to 2 MW, and may be more. In spite of their delicate appearance, this is heavy-duty machinery.
The two main pieces of equipment inside the nacelle are the speed-increasing gearbox and the generator. The gearbox takes that slow blade rotation and kicks it up to around 1,800 rpm to drive the generator. Since the output is equivalent to a few thousand horsepower, these are no small gearboxes. To make matters worse, given the support structure, weight is a major concern. While not quite at the level of aircraft applications, wind turbines do have to economize as much as practical. This means the mechanical equipment has to function under very difficult conditions without the ability to build in additional safety factors.
Winergy Drive Systems builds specialized gearboxes for wind turbines, and claims world leadership in that industry segment with 50% of the market globally and 60% in the U.S. The company split off from Flender in 2002 and boasts 40,000 units installed worldwide.
This short video takes you on a tour of the Winergy Drive Systems assembly floor, showing these huge units in their final production stages. Once you see the process, you will have a new appreciation for what it takes to harness wind power.
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Annual Salary Survey
Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.
There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.
But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.
Read more: 2015 Salary Survey