CNC Machining for Green Energy

By Luke Smoothy | 17/07/2020


Learn more about how CNC Machining can be used in the green energy industry.

Renewable energy processes are advancing at a rapid pace, made possible by advancements in both research and technology. Methods of power generation are becoming more complex and sophisticated and require a greater number of bespoke parts and components. These complex parts need often need to be manufactured using precision CNC machining technology.

Advanced machining for the renewable energy sector is made possible using processes such as CNC milling, turning, 5 axis machining and more.  

What is CNC Machining?

CNC Machining is a machining process that implements CAD (Computer-Aided Design) for mass production of parts. CNC Machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, whereby a drill-like tool working at a high speed cuts away at a single piece of material to reach the desired final shape. 

You can find a range of Get It Made’s guides to CNC Machining processes below:

CNC Machining and Renewable Energy

Through the use of highly precise parts, advanced CNC machining increases the quality and efficiency of power generation, which is why it is widely considered and used in the production of some key components of green energy. 

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy may refer to:

  • Bioenergy
  • Offshore wind
  • Onshore wind
  • Solar Power
  • Hydro Power

Renewable power generation outpaced fossil fuel generation and has done so for four of the last five quarters (2021)

(Source: GOV.UK

Wind power equated to the largest percentage of renewable energy in the first quarter of 2020. These statistics demonstrate a notable rise in the use of renewable energy sources. In particular, wind energy requires the use of wind turbines. Wind turbines are made up of numerous CNC parts and, given the nature of how a wind turbine works, accuracy is absolutely vital. 

Renewable wind energy

With several countries now looking for every possible opportunity to maximise on renewable energy options, the UK is not alone. The production of these green energy technologies requires efficiency, and CNC machining plays a key role in helping to build renewable energy systems.

Requirements for wind turbine manufacturing:

  • Consistent & precise production
  • Highly accurate manufactured parts
  • High-quality finish with no room for error or defects
  • Robust parts able to withstand the wear of consistent use

Durable, long-lasting parts will need to be able to endure enormous stress while maintaining dimensional stability. Precise blades are needed for withstanding wind pressure, and specialist metals and carbon fibre are crucial for ensuring the blades remain lightweight.

The forces experienced by these blades are similar to those required for aeroplane wings. Over time, performance can be impacted, which is why a reliable machining method that is cost-efficient and accurate should be used – and this method is CNC machining.

Materials often used in a wind turbine

  • Fibreglass with a hollow core
  • Aluminium
  • Lightweight wood is occasionally used for the rotor blades

How CNC Machining aids wind energy

  • Milling machines are used for processing holes in tube shell heat exchanges 
  • Gear wheel manufacturing involves metal cutting, which can accurately be achieved with CNC machines
  • Multi-purpose lathe machines are used for the bearings, gearbox housings or rotors.

Top Tip: We’ve found a handy & detailed diagram of a Wind Turbine to help you visualise the various components and parts!

The technology needed for manufacturing wind turbine structures requires specific CNC machining processes, and it may include:

  • Turbine Blases
  • Hub
  • Core
  • Pitch bearings (the reliability of the bearings is crucial for safe operation, which is why CNC machining is often preferred. The bearing’s reliability allows the wind turbine to optimise their angle according to the wind speed)
wind turbine

Solar Power and CNC Machining

Similar to how CNC machining can benefit the production of wind turbines, so too can it be used in the production of solar panel components. This may include:

  • Frames
  • Back rails
  • Carrier rails

All of which can utilise CNC Milling and Extrusion machines, which are ideal for this kind of project.

Larger solar panel production may require or incorporate machine techniques such as cutting or milling. It’s important to remember, though, that non-CNC processes are also needed. There are multiple operating parts, and it’s important that this is considered in the designs of the CNC machined components. 

solar panels on roof

Hydropower and CNC machining

CNC companies around the world produce components for hydropower turbines or generators. A wide variety of components are produced, from simple shafts and bushings to hydro turbine housings and cores. CNC milling and other machining technologies are used for developing the gates of dams and hydropower stations. 

hydroelectric dam

Why is CNC Machining popular for green energy?

CNC machining is a popular choice for producing renewable energy parts for the following main reasons:

  • High-quality finishes
  • Mass production
  • Large scale parts are possible 
  • Ease of production on site 

Like many machine-made parts, the components that are needed for the energy sector will require an extremely high-quality finish and must be designed accurately to withstand the high forces, temperature changes and corrosion. 

The renewable energy sector uses CNC machining where possible due to the speed and accuracy that parts can be produced. 

With this speed and accuracy comes fast production times, and a reduction in overall costs, due to the fact that the parts are mass-produced, and largely rely on automation.  

The future of renewable energy and CNC machining

Renewable energy investors are consistently driving forward, and looking for ways to invest in the UK’s renewable energy sources. 

Renewable energy is also a more attractive choice, and in terms of the ‘attractiveness index’, clean energy is a driving force. With industries and companies expanding the need for new energy resources, the ability for CNC machines to reliably produce high-quality parts is now needed more than ever. 

The renewable energy sector is only going to increase and expand. As various industries and sectors seek and implement a more environmentally conscious approach to manufacturing and business processes, CNC machining is proving a popular choice. 

You can find out more about our CNC machining services on our website, and head to our technical toolbox to find all the information you could need to design and manufacture great parts.

Luke Smoothy

Director and Founder of Get It Made Ltd.

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