Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology Facility 360 Virtual Tour (Text Version)

This is the text version of the Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology (CoMET) facility 360 virtual tour.

Hotspot Photo Hotspot Description
A machine with transparent lid open, revealing a gridded platform interior.

Cuts two-dimensional shapes out of metals, composites, stone, woods, and ceramics. This allows researchers and technicians to produce components quickly and effectively for prototyping, laboratory fixtures, and research devices.

Fun facts:

  • This equipment is useful in the water power research field because it provides the ability to quickly turn around parts for developing small-scale devices, particularly Powering the Blue Economy-scale wave energy converters.
  • It also allows for research in developing the most efficient and practical way of manufacturing components with new materials.
Shelves are visible through the glass wall of a small, rectangular room accessible by a sliding glass panel door.

This walk-in laboratory fume hood provides maximum visibility in the laboratory and effectively contains toxic, noxious, or other harmful materials.

Yellow metal frames that could fit around a car span the interior of a hangar.

These two 10-ton gantry cranes allow researchers to move heavy tools and equipment. The cranes are positioned on a track that runs nearly the entire length of the Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology (CoMET) facility.

A machine sits on a desk top with wires and sliding components exposed in the interior.

This is a desktop-scale fused-deposition modeling/material extrusion printer that enables the low-cost printing of thermoplastic components. The printer is equipped with two extruders that allow it to make parts of different materials and colors in one print.

The hardware and software for this printer are open source, allowing NREL to easily modify and upgrade the device to print novel materials that may have never been printed before.

Fun facts:

  • The ability to modify the operation of this printer enables research in printing new materials without the need to reconstruct the whole printer and develop new software.
  • Also, because it is open source, the printer can use any extrudable material without implications of breaking the warranty or damaging the machine.
The hollow interior is seen from the end of a horizontal wind turbine blade resting on wooden supports.

NREL researchers used advanced composite materials to create this 9-meter recyclable thermoplastic wind turbine blade. Advanced composite materials present several potential advantages, including enhanced sustainability and reduced carbon fiber costs.

The first of its kind ever built in the United States, the blade is the result of a large collaboration with other national labs, academic institutions, the U.S. Department of Energy, and many industrial partners.

The blade was the finalist for a Composites and Advanced Materials Expo Combined Strength Award in 2017 and for the JEC Composites World Innovation Award in 2018.

Fun facts:

  • First thermoplastic composite wind blade ever built in the United States—the result of a large project collaboration with other national labs, academic institutions, the U.S. Department of Energy, and many industrial partners.
  • Finalist for a Composites and Advanced Materials Expo Combined Strength Award in 2017.
  • Finalist for JEC Composites World 2018 Innovation Award.
An orange translucent cover is lifted off a black, rectangular device that sits on a desktop, revealing some wires and moving parts inside.

This features a vat of photopolymer resin that cures when exposed to UV radiation. This stereolithography (SLA) style printer uses a controllable laser to selectively cure areas of resin within the vat to generate a 3D structure.

The printer’s high accuracy and precision make it capable of printing very precise and smooth parts. In addition, the printer features a large assortment of photopolymer resins, which enable the printer to achieve many different materials properties.

Fun facts:

  • NREL research is very diverse, and having the capability to print in several different materials is a major asset for our facility.
  • An interesting application of this type of 3D printer involves printing aerodynamic and hydrodynamic shapes.
  • This printer fulfills the need to achieve the smooth shapes of airfoils, which are the cross-sectional shape of a wing.
  • Standard fused-deposition modeling printers cannot achieve this smoothness without the use of post processing, which is final material removal to achieve a desired surface finish. This adds time and difficulty to the manufacturing process that can be almost completely avoided by using the SLA style of 3D printer.
A wooden frame houses a metal platform and a device that slides across metal rods.

This machine allows researchers and project partners to quickly turn around computerized numerically controlled (or CNC) manufactured parts out of easily machinable materials. The small scale and simple design also allow researchers to make modifications and upgrades that enable new capabilities.

A beige plastic container is open on the curved front to reveal mechanisms within. A touch screen is off to the side reading "ELEMENT"

This piece of equipment is used to make precise cuts for material characterization.

Metal valves and tubes are all interlinked with hoses and wires.

The variable-ratio mixing (VRM) machine is used to mix epoxy resin before infusion. It can mix up to 30 kilograms of material per minute.

Complex metal tubes and wires are intertwined next to a control panel.

This mixes resins such as in-place polymerized thermoplastics, polyester, and vinylester resins before infusion.

A hollow device that spans a large area of a hangar is supported by a metal frame.

This set of 13-meter wind blade molds is used to build 13-meter National Rotor Testbed blades. The molds were fabricated by TPI Composites with 3D printing from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and have been used to build multiple blades. NREL has validated three blades from this mold set.

An arm controlled by a touch screen slides across a large blue sheet of fabric.

This machine provides automated fabric cutting for composite manufacturing. It cuts dry fiberglass fabrics up to 72-inches wide, and the conveyor system enables unlimited cut lengths. The programmatic features allow custom cut shapes with excellent repeatability.

A rounded paddle points toward the camera and stretches away to the back of a hangar.

The megawatt-scale wind blade tip mold enables manufacturing research at a scale relevant to modern commercial land-based wind turbine systems.

Tanks are interconnected with gauges, wires, and tubes.

This vacuum pump, which is an integral component of composite manufacturing, provides low pressure for closed molding systems such as vacuum assisted resin transfer molding processes (VARTM).

A metal-framed table with glass sides and tops.

These heated glass infusion tables are used to fabricate composite parts at scale. The glass surface provides visibility of both the top and bottom of a part during manufacturing. Internal heating elements can help with chemical curing if required.

A large, yellow robotic arm sits on a rotating dias in the middle of a hangar.

This robot, which has a 125-kilogram payload and a 3,000-millimeter reach, was used primarily for research and development in advancing wind blade manufacturing technology. This platform allowed researchers to create innovative composite blade designs and develop improved manufacturing processes.

Late in 2021, NREL will install a new robotic research platform, which will include a new robot (300-kilogram payload and 2,500-millimeter reach). It will be positioned on a 6-meter linear rail, which will significantly enlarge the robot’s range of motion and further expand NREL’s manufacturing and automation research capabilities within CoMET.

NREL researchers are using robots to move to an automated blade finishing process. The blade finishing process involves cutting, grinding, and sanding excess material from the blade after it is removed from the mold. By using robots, researchers can automate this process that was previously only done by hand. Improved automation could increase worker safety, improve the quality of the turbine blades, and help to bring down manufacturing costs while increasing its speed and utilization factor.

Fun Facts

  • The robot pictured here was loaned to NREL by JR Automation as part of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation—or IACMI—4.10 project.
  • In addition to IACMI, the IACMI 4.10 project included partners such as GE, LM Wind Power, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office.
  • The new robot, which will be installed on the track in late 2021, will soon be available for automation research projects, and we welcome partners interested in working with NREL on this new robotic capability.
 A gray device sits on a table. The interior is hollow except for a few mechanisms and a black platform.

This 3D printer is a fused-deposition modeling/material extrusion device. An additional feature of this printer is the ability to lay continuous fiber, such as carbon, glass, or Kevlar, in the thermoplastic to create composite parts.

The inclusion of fiber makes parts with much higher strength than what a standard fused-deposition modeling printer can make. This capability allows for a faster design cycle and enables the creation of more complex parts than is possible with traditional manufacturing.

Finally, this printer can optimize function rather than design for manufacturability.

Fun facts:

  • In a fast-paced research and development center, there is a constant need for one-off parts—or parts that just need to be made once.
  • Traditional manufacturing often can complete more precise parts at a higher rate than additive manufacturing, but the engineering design effort is very front heavy.
  • In instances where you just need one part, going through a lengthy design process can greatly exceed the total time it takes to design for additive manufacturing and print the part.
  • With this printer, researchers can go through the design cycle a lot faster and end up with a part with the same capabilities. That is a huge asset for NREL.
A computer monitor sits next to a microscope on a desktop.

This optical microscope is used for studying advanced manufacturing materials.