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Blade Runners

The operating profile of how electricity is produced is changing, but one thing has not changed: turbines remain a critical centerpiece of the next generation of power plants currently under construction, as well as those planned for the future.

Posted: February 16, 2018

Most of the electricity in the United States is produced by steam turbines such as this that are used in natural gas-fired combined-cycle generators and traditional coal-fired power plants. Increasing demand for gas, steam and wind turbines is great news for machine shops that supply blades, casings, shafts, discs, rings, diaphragms and other high precision components, which can be some of the most demanding, but highest margin work.
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The operating profile of how electricity is produced is changing, but one thing has not changed: turbines remain a critical centerpiece of the next generation of power plants currently under construction, as well as those planned for the future. They are the “blade runners” of natural gas-fired combined-cycle units that use both gas turbines and steam turbines and accounted for 53 percent of the 449 GW of total U.S. natural gas-powered generator capacity in 2016, the most recent year that federal data is available.1 Other types of natural gas-fired technology include combustion turbines, which produced about 28 percent of total natural gas-powered generator capacity, and steam turbines, which produced about 17 percent.1 On the renewable side of next generation power are wind turbines, those large blade runners that provided almost 6 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2016, or about 37 percent of the electricity generated from renewable energy sources.2 Through the third quarter of 2017, total installed wind capacity across the U.S. was 84,944 MW.3

In fact, through the third quarter of 2017 the U.S. wind industry was booming, working on a 29 GW-plus pipeline of projects under construction and in advanced development, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA; Washington, DC).4 AWEA reported there were 13,759 MW of projects under construction and 15,875 MW in advanced development, an increase of 27 percent over 2016. During the quarter, utilities announced plans to develop and own 3,040 MW of wind farms, including the 2,000 MW Wind Catcher project in Oklahoma by American Electric Power Co Inc. (Columbus, OH) and the 500 MW New Wind II project in Iowa by Alliant Energy Corporation (Madison, WI).4 Project developers signed 1,337 MW of power purchase agreements, with corporate buyers accounting for 62 percent of total wind project capacity contracted, including Anheuser Busch, Cummins, JPMorgan Chase, Kimberly Clark, Target and General Motors.4 According to Tom Kiernan, the chief executive officer of AWEA, the high level of wind under construction and in advanced development means the industry is on track to deliver ten percent of U.S. electricity by 2020.4

References

  1. “Today in Energy: Natural Gas Generators Make Up the Largest Share of Overall U.S. Generation Capacity,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 2, 2018. Retrieved from www.eia.gov.
  2. “Energy Explained: Electricity in the United States,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 2, 2018. Retrieved from www.eia.gov.
  3. “Wind Energy Facts at a Glance,” American Wind Energy Association, February 2, 2018. Retrieved from www.awea.org.
  4. “U.S. Wind Under Construction, in Advanced Development Nears 30 GW,” Renewables Now, February 2, 2018. Retrieved from www.awea.org.

All of this business growth means the demand for blade runners – gas, steam and wind turbines used for power generation – will continue to increase, which is great news for machine shops that supply blades, casings, shafts, discs, rings, diaphragms and other high precision components used to build turbines, which can be some of the most demanding, but highest margin jobs. It is also great news for other shops that supply the countless number of machined parts used in the power industry – which varies greatly in size, design, material and type of machining process. To help all of them stay competitive on job bidding, here are some of the latest machine tools and accessories that can reduce their operating cycles, save time and labor, and turn jobs around quicker:

Large Turbine Engine Component Machining for Power Generation
Equipped with a 2-axis rotary table for enhanced workpiece positioning, the EDBV8 fast hole EDM drilling machine from Makino provides blade and vane manufacturers with the flexibility to accommodate a wider range of part sizes for any high volume fast hole EDM drilling application.

Heavy Duty 5-Axis Machining of Generator Turbine Components
The INTEGREX i-630V/6 multi-tasking machine from Mazak uses fast, high torque milling and turning spindles for 5-axis and trochoidal machining of generator turbine components and other large, highly complex parts in the shortest cycle times possible.

Machining of Gas and Steam Turbine Casings and More
The PXG multi-tasking gantry milling machine from SORALUCE maximizes productivity and minimizes set-up time for turning, milling, boring, drilling and threading complex gas and steam turbine casings, CHP motors, parts used in the construction of machinery for the energy industry, and the general machining of other large workpieces.

5-Axis Machining of Gas Turbine Blades for Power Generation
The LX 251 from Starrag performs efficient, complete five-axis machining of complex, high-tech turbine blades in one clamping for consistent reproducibility of workpieces that is critical when manufacturing fan blades.

Flexible 5-Axis HMC For High Productivity and Absolute Precision
The FP 4000 5-axis horizontal machining center from Heller Machine Tools uses twin drives in the Z-axis for heavy duty cutting, combined milling and drilling operations, or 5-sided machining in a single setup for contract manufacturing or tool and die work where 5-axis milling is needed for productivity and process dependability.

Machining Turbine Shafts for Gas Power Plants
The mpmc 2000S machining center from Weingärtner reduces machining time by two-thirds on giant turbine shafts that are 2 m diameter, weigh up to 60 tons and feature innovative component geometries used in gas or vapor turbine power plants.

Quill Spindle HMC Produces Large, High Precision Bores for Energy Applications
The HU100 Quill Spindle horizontal machining center from Mitsui Seiki USA is well suited for boring of gas field valves and fittings, in addition to other fluid transfer components up to 60 in diameter and weighing up to 6,600 lb.

Large Part Precision Machining Services
Coldwater Machine Company performs precision machining with tolerances of +.0003 in for prototype creation or contract manufacturing of large jigs, fixtures, lift devices and material handling equipment for the energy industry made from a variety of materials.

Effective Drilling of Complex Hole Patterns
The redesigned DeHoff 2072TC gundrilling machine with 5-axis capability from Kays Engineering mounts a gundrilling spindle on a traveling column for X-axis and Y-axis movement, with a CAT 40 spindle mounted on the traveling column for secondary milling and tapping operations.

Innovative, Compact HMC With Column Traverse Structure
The KIWA-Japan Triple H40 Horizontal Machining Center with a Column Traverse Structure from Methods Machine Tools supports the flexible mounting of various fixtures and rotary tables based on the application.

Next Generation Slant-Bed CNC Lathes for Quick Turnaround Jobs
SL-II Series CNC lathes from Milltronics are fast, accurate and affordable true slant bed CNC lathes with robust roller guideways for superior accuracy and heavy cutting that anyone in a small to medium size shop can run to get jobs out the door in a hurry.

Modular Systems for Custom Profile Machining
Special modular systems from Suhner can be created for complete profile machining applications of various large volume parts or long sections from multiple sides that often fit poorly or not at all on standard machine tools.

CNC Milling & CAD Training Videos
The Training Professor Video Series from BobCAD-CAM covers basic programming techniques, then advances into gouge checking, adaptive toolpath programming, tapered thread milling and other complex applications.

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