Reimagining the Wind Energy Industry with Distributed Manufacturing

The energy sector is witnessing a transformation. While the demand for conventional energy sources decreased, use of renewable energy has surged, with a projected worth of green energy set to reach up to $2.172 billion by 2030.

Continued success for renewables demands consistency, efficiency, flexibility, speed, and reliability being built to specifications. Additive manufacturing assures supply chain resilience and provides a path for critical uptime in the renewable energy space.


Vestas Wind Systems A/S, a leader in the North American wind industry, exemplifies this transformative shift in the renewable energy space and as an early adopter of 3D printing technology. Vestas relies on additive manufacturing to harness its potential to not only enhance operations but also to drive innovation within the energy sector. Vestas’ pioneering efforts underscore the industry’s imperative to explore innovative technologies that propel it forward while mitigating potential disruptions within their intricate supply chains.

The Need for Resilience in Renewable Energy Supply Chains

Despite the challenges of an increasing demand for renewable energy and the external pressure of weakened supply chains, energy manufacturers, like Vestas, endeavor to ensure resiliency and flexibility in their operations. Additive manufacturing presents a unique opportunity for onshoring supply chains, enabling the creation of functional components precisely when and where they are needed, thus reducing reliance on external suppliers. Beyond that, the use of a digitized supply chain platform for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to source, file, and print parts on demand where and when they need them, without the cost or hassle of physical inventory, can drive productivity and help get products to market faster and with fewer disruptions.

Samuel Manning

In fact, energy manufacturers can optimize their operations by embracing a digital inventory system, which serves as an electronic warehouse for secure, on-demand printing of spare parts. This approach offers many benefits, including cost savings, enhanced efficiency, and data-driven decision-making. This transition from traditional manufacturing methods to a digital platform might appear daunting, but the advantages are numerous, including a heightened focus on quality control.

Empowering Wind Energy

Uptime is critical and additive manufacturing keeps Vestas’ wind turbines online and operational.

Towering at 137 meters to 259 meters (450 feet to 850 feet), with a rotor diameter between 109 meters to 236 meters (360 feet to 774 feet), they dominate their surroundings and are often visible for miles. Vestas is the world’s largest onshore and offshore wind turbine and wind turbine blade manufacturer, with 15+ manufacturing plants worldwide.

Wind turbines are massive and expensive machines, and to be as efficient as possible wind turbines must function reliably with minimal downtime. That means there’s no room for error in manufacturing and installation. As a result, Vestas depends on numerous inspection gauges at its manufacturing facilities and installation sites. These critical tools have traditionally been sourced from multiple vendors around the world based on detailed manufacturing instructions. The finished parts are sent to the various Vestas sites, inspected for compliance, and —once approved—put to use. Unfortunately, some of the final parts supplied by local manufacturers were not 100% to spec and did not pass final inspection. This results in final product delivery and installation delays.

Even when parts made it through the specialized inspection process, most were manufactured using time-consuming and costly traditional machining methods and raw materials. Take, for example, the top center (TC) marking tools. These critical tools—used by Vestas to mark the root end of turbine blades to align pitch—would typically take about five weeks to produce. To make matters worse, the Vestas team would have to order multiple versions of the TC marking tool to fit a range of blades due to limits on machined designs. Or, consider the lightning tip receptors designed to reduce lightning strike damage. These receptors are built via subtractive manufacturing in aluminum, requiring at least 12 weeks to produce. Local blade manufacturing sites building lightning tip receptors with additive manufacturing will be able to produce these with 3D-printed copper at the point of need.

Time equals money—a line down in one factory is a big deal, but a turbine that has gone down can cost even more. Access to print the part on demand can get that line or turbine back up and operational much quicker.

The Game-Changing Power of On-Demand Manufacturing

Through the power of additive manufacturing, Vestas prints a verified part, at a desired location and time through  a cloud-based and AI-powered additive manufacturing platform. By already creating a direct digital manufacturing (DDM) program in 2021, Vestas frees up manufacturing processes from relying on outside sources and can have their 2,000+ Vestas at the ready to print from a digital file in a digital repository. This allows employees at any Vestas location—with little to no additive manufacturing expertise—to quickly search for and print any number of parts on 3D printers. With such a repository, Vestas gets consistent, up-to-spec parts at a moment’s notice, anywhere in the world, without the need for specialists at their global facilities. This can dramatically reduce shipping and freight costs, and manufacturing lead times.

A tool that previously took weeks and thousands of dollars to produce is now being made in only a few days. Most importantly, the Vestas team no longer has to worry about these or any other parts failing compliance tests because they are printed on-demand and in-house using verified encrypted digital specifications.

The Future of Digitizing 3D Printing

The future of the energy sector is marked by the convergence of renewable energy’s growth and the adoption of additive manufacturing. Vestas exemplifies this by embracing DDM as a critical driver of new product development and on-demand part availability across its global manufacturing sites.

3D printing has evolved into a key player in manufacturing high-performance components, from factories to wind turbines. Its agile capabilities align with the energy industry’s demands for custom tools, increased uptime, and the integration of smart technology. This integration empowers engineers to tackle complex challenges efficiently, eliminating busy work.

Looking ahead, a digitized supply chain promises reliable, on-demand production of manufacturer-certified parts. The future of manufacturing lies in the press of a button, where customers can access precisely what they need, when they need it. In this future, the energy sector is set to experience a greener, more efficient, and innovative era of production.

Samuel Manning is Principal Public Relations Manager for Markforged, the 3D printing partner for Vestas.