Are we facing the wind properly?

With the aid of a 3D-printer, innogy student trainee makes wind turbines more efficient

Alexander Friedrich sits at his desk showing his 3D object to the camera. A wind turbine also produced by his 3-D printer is among the objects on his desk.

innogy – the name stands for innovation and energy, but people are the real linchpins of innovation. The more committed they are, the more innovative they tend to be and student trainee Alexander Friedrich is a prime example of that. He designed and 3-D printed an object that can be used to gauge whether wind turbines are positioned correctly to catch the wind and thus generate energy efficiently.

His printed object actually looks rather unspectacular. With its thread on the inside, the grey plug is reminiscent of a wine cork that has already had an opener screwed into it. But in reality it is a key component of an innogy research and development project designed to detect incorrectly aligned wind turbines.

It frequently happens that turbines are not ideally aligned to the prevailing wind. That reduces their efficiency, so they generate less electricity than they could or should be producing. One way of identifying suboptimal positioning is to evaluate the operating data of the turbines. That process repeatedly showed that the data quality of the sensors measuring the position of the turbines was suboptimal.

Now additional sensors are being used to review the existing technology. “We needed a customised connecting piece to install the sensors, but production of connectors can be an expensive and time-consuming process, depending on the way they are manufactured. So Alexander’s 3D printer and his expertise in designing objects came in very handy for us”, says Stefan Heindl, the innogy Onshore Wind employee responsible for evaluating the operating data. The control sensor has so far been installed in two turbines at the Bartelsdorf wind farm in the Lower Saxony district of Rotenburg, where each of them now has four weeks of readings that are about to undergo further evaluation.

Next order – to produce a 3D model of a transformer substation

The connector and control sensor installed on the inside of a wind turbine
The installed connector and control sensor inside a wind turbine

For Alexander Friedrich, who is studying Applied IT in Dortmund, 3-D printing of the object was one of the easier tasks he has tackled. He has already fielded some very different assignments via his own online shop, including orders for big-name customers in Germany and abroad. “Things can be printed out of all kinds of different materials”, explains Friedrich, “like wood, copper and magnetic material.” The small wind turbine – seen in the title photo – is also a product of Friedrich’s 3D printer.

He has now received his next order from innogy. They would like 3-D models of a transformer substation and a turbine blade for the North Sea East offshore wind farm, as a convenient educational tool for explaining some of the technical functions of the plant. This has aroused Friedrich’s ambition: “The turbine blade will be no problem. But there is a great deal of detail involved in the transformer substation. That will be a real challenge!”

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Wind of change