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GE Refines, Expands Wind Turbine Production Line

While specific proposed wind power developments face their fair share of challenges including local and political opposition, one of the greatest challenges to wind power as a whole is a tight and increasingly expensive supply chain for key components like turbines.

In the same way a raw material shortage has cramped the solar photovoltaic industry, the wind power industry has been squeezed by a turbine shortage -- a situation the manufacturers will tell you is the result of vacillating policy support in the U.S. Whatever the causes, the largest manufacturer of turbines in the world, GE Energy, announced advances this week in its production chain that could help squeeze out a few more turbines to help meet robust worldwide demand. In Germany, GE Energy's wind business has opened a new 80-ton, wind turbine "moving line" in its Salzbergen manufacturing facility that will help to meet increased global demand for wind turbines. This moving line is a 42-meter rail system on which the turbines are continuously moved during production. It has been designed for the manufacture of both GE 1.5 and multi-megawatt wind turbines and, according to the company, offers a 30% increase in capacity along with quality and safety improvements. GE says the efficiency of the line will enable GE to increase its capacity by 30 percent while reducing its inventory by 40% at the Salzbergen plant. A key feature of the new moving line is its capability to detect abnormalities should they occur in wind turbine assembly and halt the manufacturing process until the issues are resolved. It can move at various speeds to accommodate different output levels. "With the growing demand for wind power worldwide, it is critical for GE to get the highest possible levels of production out of our existing wind turbine manufacturing facilities," said Rainer Broering, Managing Director of GE Energy's wind business in Germany. "The Salzbergen team began addressing this requirement three years ago, applying 'lean-manufacturing' principles to the hub production area of the plant, transforming it into a model line. Motivated by the results of the model line, the team tackled the next challenge, the machine head line, a more diverse and complex product. The result is our new moving line." With wind turbine design, manufacturing and assembly facilities in Germany, Spain and the United States, GE Energy is among the world's major providers of wind energy products and support services ranging from commercial wind turbines and grid integration products to project development assistance and operation and maintenance.

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