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The Mesostructural Effects of Shifting on Fiber


Reinforced Polymers in Wind Turbine Blade
Manufacturing
Emily L. Judd
Wind Energy Science, Engineering, and Policy REU, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
Mentors: Siqi Zhu and Dr. Matthew Frank

AbstractIntroducing automation into a manufacturing


process can significantly improve product quality and reduce
labor costs and production time. Shifting is a new method for
automated fabric deformation designed for use in manufacturing
wind turbine blades [1]. Previous studies included implementing
the shifting method into a machine and conducting fatigue tests.
The final stage of testing how shifting affected the material
properties of fiberglass included measuring the dimensions of the
individual tows in key areas of the fiberglass fabric. Tow width
was measured in several ways, along with tow thickness, and
cross-sectional tow area. Tow spacing, as determined by the
presence of gaps, and the tow radii of curvature were also
measured. These measurements allowed for the inspection of the
effects of shifting in conjunction with other standard
manufacturing processes. Overall, shifting did not create
deformations like gaps or compressed tows in amounts that would
disqualify the method from use in industry. This suggests that
shifting is a viable method for use in automated manufacturing.
Index TermsComposite materials; material properties;
manufacturing automation; materials processing; microscopy.

I. NOMENCLATURE
Tow: a group of individual fibers, often used in reference to
materials such as fiberglass and carbon fiber, where the
combination of many tows creates the material fabric, as seen
in Fig. 1.

Unidirectional fabric: fabric in which approximately 90% of


tows run in the same direction, the other 10% are stitched
perpendicular to provide the structure for the fabric.
Warp: 0 fabric direction, runs along the tow direction in
unidirectional fabrics.
Weft: 90 fabric direction, runs perpendicular to the tow
direction in unidirectional fabrics.
Mesostructure: the structural features at the tow level; when
speaking of fiberglass fabric, the mesostructure is larger than
the microstructure, or individual fibers, and smaller than the
macrostructure, or the fabric.
II. INTRODUCTION

S the wind energy industry grows, it is even more


important to reduce production costs and increase
longevity of the wind turbine blade components. One way to
accomplish both of these goals is by incorporating more
automation in the manufacturing process. Automation
decreases labor expenses and increases quality due to process
uniformity. The task of manufacturing the trailing edge of
wind turbine blades could especially benefit from
incorporating automation due to the complex geometries
involved in the mold. In industry, unidirectional fiberglass
fabric used to create the trailing edge is deformed by hand to
fit the mold curvature. This leads to wrinkles and gaps in the
fabric, both of which can cause voids during the infusion
process, leading to a decrease in material strength. Besides the
deformation, human variability is also introduced during
layup. These conditions can have serious impacts on the final
material properties such as gaps (Fig. 2), or in-plane waviness,
and wrinkles, or out-of-plane waviness, and the resulting

Fig. 1: Unidirectional fabric terminology


Fig. 2: Tow spacing gaps
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science
Foundation under Grant No. EEC 1460984. Any opinions, findings, and
conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the
author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science
Foundation.

breaks in the composite matrix from uneven resin infusion can


lead to compressive failure [2]. This failure could in turn lead
to an overall failure in the wind turbine blade, causing severe

ramifications in both repair costs and possible damage to other


turbine components.
In order to address these issues, Magnussen proposed a new
method for fabric deformation called shifting [1]. This method
was used to automate the fabric deformation as shown in Fig.
3. In addition to the automation benefit, the method also
decreased unwanted deformations such as wrinkles and gaps as
compared with hand-deformed fabric.

Fig. 5: Automated trailing edge layup

Fig. 3: Shifting machine

In this paper, results from an experiment in the final testing


stage of the shifting method will be examined. Previously
completed studies included implementing the shifting method
into an automated machine and running fatigue tests on shifted
fiberglass fabric. The final tests looked at the tow widths in
key areas of interest across shifted samples. These widths were
compared to unshifted control samples. Tow thicknesses for
the various areas were also measured and compared to the
controls. By examining the change in tow dimensions (Fig. 4)

assumed to act as a pin, leaving the tows free to rotate [3].


This allows for the free movement of the fabric at an angle
instead of a curve, as would result if deformed by hand. In the
shifting process at the tow level, the unidirectional tows rotate
about the joint while the structural tows shift in the weft
direction. The shifting method can be seen in Fig. 6.

Fig. 6: Fabric deformation by shifting [1]

Fig. 4: Tow measurement nomenclature

caused by implementing the shifting method through an


automated process, it was seen how much in-plane waviness
(gaps) and tow compression were introduced to the fiberglass
material. The purpose of the experiment was to show that
shifting is a viable manufacturing method for the production of
wind turbine blade trailing edges, as seen in a test in Fig. 5 (on
right). This was done by analyzing the fiberglass samples
fabricated in the laboratory to determine if the amount of inplane waviness and tow compression present in shifted fabric
were within acceptable ranges.

Although shifting itself is new, other automation methods


have been studied. In continuous tow shearing, the fabric was
continuously steered to fit the curvature of a mold [4]. Even
though this process successfully fit fabric to a mold, wrinkles
occurred in the fabric similar to hand layup. The effects of
hand layup steering can be seen in Fig. 7.
(a)

(b)

III. LITERATURE REVIEW


The shifting theory, or the actual deformation model, is
based on a pin-jointed net model, where at each position where
the unidirectional and structural tows cross, the joint is

Fig. 7: Fabric deformation by steering (a) model (b) actual

Previous studies verified various aspects of shifting as a new


manufacturing method [1] [3] [5]. As Raghavan had already

tested the macrostructural properties of shifted material with


compressive stress and fatigue tests [3], what remained was to
test the mesostructural and microstructural properties [5]. This
final stage of testing was necessary because although the
macroscopic effects are what are normally observed, the
micro- and macroscopic effects of shifting are what will cause
the macroscopic effects, including possible failures. These
properties were measured using techniques defined by Potluri
et al. [6] to find the relationship between the shear angle and
the tow geometries. Specifically, a flat-bed scanner captured
the tow positions after shearing, or shifting in this case, and
then the tow widths were measured and tow thicknesses were
defined according to a sample cutting method used by Potluri
et al. as seen in Fig. 8. As applied to unidirectional fabric, cut
1 was along the structural tow direction, and cut 2 was made

including passing through rollers, possibly introducing fabric


compression, but it was not clamped or shifted. The other three
samples per batch had shift angles of 5, 10, and 15. The
process may be seen in Fig. 9. It was decided to not test shift

(a)

Fig. 9: Dry Sample Creation Process


(b)

Fig. 8: Sample cuts for measuring tow thickness (a) cut parallel to structural
tow direction (b) cut perpendicular to unidirectional tow direction [6]

perpendicular to the unidirectional tow direction [6]. Cut 1 was


easier to make but did not expose the true tow thickness and
required trigonometric calculations to find the true thickness
from the measured tow thickness. Cut 2, although significantly
more difficult to make accurately, gave access to directly
measuring the true tow thickness instead of being obliged to
calculate it, propagating any measurement error. This process
was proposed by Zhu, another researcher investigating
shifting, to complete the final stages of testing the shifting
method and related shifting machine [5].
IV. METHODOLOGY
A. Experimental Overview
Several tests were conducted in order to test the effects of
shifting on fiberglass. In order to truly test the viability of
shifting, industry manufacturing conditions were replicated as
much as possible. This included infusing the fiberglass through
a vacuum bagging process.
B. Sample Creation
For an overall control, one sample was cut directly from the
dry fiberglass roll (200 mm wide Saertex 930 g/m2
unidirectional non-crimped fiberglass) without passing through
the shifting machine. Three batches of samples were created to
test for repeatability of the results. Only three batches were
tested due to low predicted variation between samples of the
same test conditions. In each batch, there were four samples
cut with varied shift angles. The 0 sample acted as the control
for each batch; it was processed through the shifting machine,

angles above 15 as the maximum shift angle needed for use in


layup for wind turbine blade molds should not exceed 8, as
determined by preliminary tests with the shifting machine.
Sample shift angle increments of 5 were chosen as differing
shift angle samples with smaller angle increments would not
have shown significant variance in their respective material
properties. The samples were overshifted by 20% to minimize
the elastic springback of the fabric to the unshifted position.
The batch sample creation process was randomized to reduce
random error. A random number generator was used to set the
order of sample shift angles for each batch.
While the samples went through the shifting machine, the
edges of the machine clamps were marked on the fabric so that
the definitive boundaries of the clamped sections could be
clearly seen on the samples throughout the testing phase.
After the samples cleared the shifting machine, they were
scanned with a Canon LiDE 120 flat-bed scanner to create an
image that could be processed in the ImageJ software package.
A mixture of Hexion resin (EPICURE RIMR 135) and
hardener (EPIKURE RIMR 1366) was used to form an epoxy
suitable for infusion. Since the goal was to observe micro- and
macroscopic material properties of the fiberglass, the test
samples were individually processed, not in layers like would
be done in industry. With only one layer of fiberglass in the
samples, several issues arose during the infusion process.
During pilot tests, one batch had several samples ruined during
the removal of the peel ply and infusion grid as the peel ply
did not release well, ripping and cracking the samples. To
avoid that failure, the infusion for Batch 1 of experimental test
samples did not include peel ply or infusion grid. This caused
the epoxy to move too slowly across the samples so that the
epoxy cured while only two samples were partially infused,
ruining the samples of 0 and 5 shift angles. Fortunately, this
meant that the other two samples of 10 and 15 shift angles
were still usable. These samples were coated with epoxy and
left to cure without the use of a vacuum. This accomplished
the goal of freezing the fabric in place although without the
real manufacturing conditions. This process was termed

freezing as it accomplished the goal of freezing the fabric in


place, allowing for ease of handling. Batch 2 was also cured in
open air (frozen), allowing for complete testing of all four
shift angles with that method. Batch 3 was infused with peel
ply and infusion grid, and the peel ply and grid were left
attached during the measurement process to avoid destroying
the samples. This allowed for a full batch of samples
mimicking manufacturing conditions.
C. Sample Measurements
Measurements were taken on the samples in both the dry
state and in the frozen or infused state.
1) Tow Width
The first consideration for testing was the change in tow
width in different areas of the shifted fabric to show how the
shifting process affected the fabric. Dry measurements were
processed first. For the control and 0 samples, tow widths
were measured in both the warp and weft directions. For the
5, 10, and 15 samples, six areas of the fabric were tested: a
straight section, both clamped sections, the shifted section, and
both bent sections, as seen in Fig. 10. The straight, shifted, and

sampled due to the difficulty of seeing individual tows after


freezing. The actual shift angle was measured again. For the
infused Batch 3, verification measurements were not taken as
individual tow widths were not able to be seen through the
peel ply and infusion grid.
2) Tow Spacing
The bent sections were measured for the percent of total length
in the weft direction that was made up of gaps. This gave an
indication of possible voids that could be produced during
infusion. The radii of curvature for these gaps were also
measured as seen in Fig. 11. Curvature measurements were

Fig. 11: Gap radius of curvature measurement

Fig. 10: Sample test sections (1) straight (2) clamped (3) bent (4) shifted
(5) bent (6) clamped

clamped sections had their tow widths measured in the warp


and weft directions. For the weft measurements, tow widths
were measured across the entire weft direction, 56 tows in all.
The weft direction was not taken as the structural tow direction
but rather as the direction perpendicular to the unidirectional
tow direction, which would give the true tow width. Warp
measurements were taken across the entirety of the clamped
sections since those sections were so small. For the straight
and shifted sections, a representative area of the section was
tested in the warp direction due to the extended length. All
warp measurements were taken along the tow outlined in red
stitches, as it was in the center of the fabric and was easy to
find for consistency. The actual shift angle was also calculated
using the angles of the tow direction in the straight and shifted
sections. These measurements were taken with ImageJ, and the
results were processed with Matlab.
After the control sample, two samples of Batch 1, and Batch
2 samples were frozen, verification measurements were taken
to see the effect that freezing had on the fabric. Tow widths in
the weft direction from 15 tows were collected from the
straight, clamped, and shifted sections. Only 15 tows were

taken on the largest gap areas, not necessarily the gaps with
either the largest or smallest radius of curvature since tows
could bend severely without forming a gap. Referring back to
Fig. 2, the gap between the tows numbered Tn and Tn+1 was
taken to belong to tow Tn and the curvature measurements
were taken along the inner radius of that tow.
3) Tow Thickness
A second area of interest was in the tow thickness to test the
compression effects of shifting and infusion. Tow thicknesses
were not measured on the dry samples due to sample
deformation when using measurement techniques. In order to
measure the tow thicknesses, cuts were made along the weft
direction perpendicular to the unidirectional tow direction
(Potluri et al. cut 2 technique) through the center of each test
area (clamped, shifted, etc.) of the frozen and infused samples
using a waterjet cutter. Once the edges were sanded to create a
glossy finish and even edge, the test piece cross-sections were
examined with a microscope. Only Batches 2 and 3 were
tested since Batch 1 had partially been destroyed in the
infusion process and the remaining successfully frozen
samples were assumed to have similar measurements to the
Batch 2 measurements. A camera attachment was used to
capture the images that were processed with ImageJ and
Matlab to measure the tow thicknesses of individual tows. As
seen in Fig. 12, along with measuring the tow thickness for
each test section, tow width and the cross-sectional tow area
were also measured to better understand the deformation
effects of shifting and the different effects from freezing versus
infusion.

Fig. 12: Cross-sectional measurements (a) cross-sectional tow area (b) tow
thickness (c) tow width

V. RESULTS
A. Tow Width
For samples in the dry state, the overall control sample had
an average warp tow width of 3.37 mm and an average weft
tow width of 3.50 mm. The average of all the test sample warp
measurements was 3.42 mm, which is well within the 95%
confidence interval of the control measurement. The total test
sample weft average tow width was 3.49 mm, just barely under
the 3.50 mm measurement of the control. The total tow width
averages across all of the 5, 10, and 15 samples may be
seen in Table 1.
Table 1: Dry tow width averages
Measurement
Direction
Test Sections
Total
Average Tow
Width (mm)

Warp

Warp

Warp

Weft

Weft

Straight

Clamped

Shifted

Straight

Clamped

Shifted

Weft

3.51

3.46

3.27

3.51

3.51

3.40

The measured dry shift angle varied somewhat from the


programmed shift angle even with the overshifting used to
compensate for the fabric elasticity. The shift angle also varied
within each sample with measurements taken from the right, or
test sections 1 through 4, and taken from the left, or test
sections 4 through 6 and to the edge of the sample. The total
average measured shift angles for 5, 10, and 15 shifted
samples were 3.967, 8.555, and 14.477 respectively. These
measured angles were at least 0.5 up to 1.445 under the
desired shift angle. However, when looking at either the angle
measurements from the right or the left side of the sample, a
noticeable difference arose. The measured shift angles taken
from the right side (sections 1 through 4) were much more
accurate, having a maximum deviation from the programmed
angle of only 0.884. The measured angles taken from the left
side were less accurate, deviating by 1.281 to as much as
2.005.
For the frozen samples, the control had an average tow
width of 3.519 mm with a 95% confidence interval range of
3.382 mm to 3.657 mm. When the tow widths were averaged
by shift angle, all were well within that range, with the largest
difference of just 0.046 mm in the 15 sample. In the straight
and clamped test sections, tow widths increased slightly as the
shift angle increased. However, this increase was not
significant, amounting to only a 0.072 mm difference in the
straight section and a 0.068 mm difference for the clamped
section, and the averages were all within 0.041 mm of the
control average. A greater impact was observed in the shifted
sections. In the shifted areas, as the shift angle increased, the
average tow width decreased and the variation increased. The

variation increased from a 0.631 mm range in the 5 shifted


section to a 1.177 mm range in the 15 shifted section. The
average tow width for the shifted section is as follows: 3.459
mm for a 5 shift, 3.406 mm for a 10 shift, and 3.312 mm for
a 15 shift.
The actual shift angle was also measured on the frozen
samples, although only from the right side (sections 1 through
4). The average measured shift angles were as follows for
programmed angles of 5, 10, and 15: 3.527, 8.087, and
14.857. Variation from the programmed angle ranged from
just 0.142 (for the 15 shift) to 1.913.
B. Tow Spacing
When measuring the dry bent sections, all of the 5 samples
had weft gap percentages of less than 1%. The 10 samples
were all under 5% and higher than 2%, and all but one bent
section were fewer than 3.5%. There was much more
variability with the 15 samples. Test section 3, or the first
bent section per sample, was consistently lower than test
section 5, or the second bent section, to the point where, in
Batch 1, the section 3 gap percentage measured almost half of
the section 5 percentage, with values of 6.89% and 12.01%
respectively. The lowest gap percentage measurement from a
15 sample was 6.29%, and the highest was 12.01%. The
overall gap percentage averages can be viewed in Table 2.
Table 2: Dry gap percentage averages
5 Shift Average
10 Shift Average
0.52%
2.92%
Section 3 Section 5 Section 3 Section 5
Average
Average
Average
Average
0.56%
0.47%
2.77%
3.07%

15 Shift Average
9.13%
Section 3 Section 5
Average
Average
6.85%
11.42%

The radii of curvature for gaps in the bent section varied


widely. No real patterns in predicting curvature emerged from
the data, with both the highest and lowest average curvatures
coming from 15 samples; the maximum and minimum
average radii were 10.25 mm and 5.33 mm. The overall
average radius of curvature was 7.45 mm with an overall 95%
confidence interval of 7.11 mm to 7.78 mm. However, for
individual test sections, the 95% confidence interval bounds
were much wider, with lower bounds ranging from 3.12 mm to
8.62mm and upper bounds ranging from 5.73 mm to 12.86 mm
across all of the tested sections.
C. Tow Thickness
Cross-section tow measurements were taken on both frozen
and infused samples. The overall control sample was frozen,
with a measured cross-sectional tow area of 2.986 mm2, a
maximum tow thickness of 0.997 mm, and a maximum tow
width of 3.619 mm. The average cross-sectional tow area for
all of the test samples, both frozen and infused, was 2.216
mm2. The total average tow thickness was 0.814 mm, and the
total average tow width was 3.290 mm. As seen in Table 3, the
characteristics of the tows differed between the frozen and
infused samples.
Table 3: Total average cross-section measurements
Cross
Section Maximum Tow
Tow Area (mm2) Thickness (mm)
Frozen Samples
2.357
0.916
Infused Samples
1.937
0.657

Maximum Tow
Width (mm)
3.081
3.317

VI. DISCUSSION
A. Tow Width
Overall, a comparison between the warp and weft tow
widths of the control sample and the experimental samples
showed no significant difference in measured widths when in
the dry state. The experimental measurements were well within
the 95% confidence interval for the control measurements,
even with a standard deviation of only 0.24 mm.
For the samples with shift angles greater or equal to 5, each
of the total warp average tow widths for the straight, clamped,
and shifted sections was within the warp 95% confidence
interval of the control sample. Even though the measurements
were at the outer limits of the confidence interval, the results
suggest that shifting, even up to 15, does not adversely affect
the tow properties of fiberglass. The section total average weft
tow width measurements for the shifted samples also fit within
the 95% confidence interval of the control weft measurements.
The straight and clamped section averages were almost
directly in line with the control weft average, again suggesting
that the process does not detrimentally affect the tow widths.
Although the average shifted weft tow width was 0.1 mm
lower than the average for the control, this measurement was
still well within the control confidence interval.
The actual shift angles varied from the programmed shift
angle, usually measuring short of the desired angle. However,
on average, the measured angles were all within 2 of the
desired angles. There was a noticeable difference between the
measured angles in the samples before and after freezing. After
freezing, sample shift angles were smaller by 0.128 up to
1.127 than when measured dry.
For average tow width measurements, freezing did not
change the fabric geometry much from the dry measurements,
only varying by a maximum of 0.05 mm, with a more common
difference of 0.02 mm or less. The general trend was that as
the shift angle increases, the shifted tow width decreases on
average but has increased variation, as seen in Fig. 13.

B. Tow Spacing
When looking at the bent regions of the dry samples, almost
no effects were observed in the 5 shifted samples, with total
gaps less than 1% of the total length. As seen in Fig. 14, the
10 shifted samples also were well within acceptable ranges,
with all samples having under a 5% gap percentage. Since in
the wind industry, fiberglass fabric shifting will almost always
occur under 10, these results suggest that shifting does not
create a failure causing number of gaps in the bent sections.

Fig. 14: Tow Spacing for Dry Samples

C. Tow Thickness
When analyzing the cross section, especially looking at the
cross-sectional tow area and the maximum tow thickness and
width, several trends may be seen. In general, the crosssectional tow area is greater in frozen samples than in infused
samples. The maximum tow thickness is also greater on
average in frozen samples, as seen in Fig. 15. However, the

Fig. 15: Average Tow Thickness for Frozen and Infused Samples

maximum tow width is generally greater in infused samples


than in frozen ones. These observations suggest that tows
underwent some compression from the vacuum pressure
during infusion, causing the tows to compress and flatten,
leading to lower cross-sectional areas and tow thicknesses and
higher tow widths.
VII. CONCLUSIONS

Fig. 13: Tow Width Range of Shifted Section from Dry and Frozen Samples

Overall, the shifting method is a successful way to deform


fiberglass fabric, especially for use in wind turbine blade
manufacturing. The average tow widths in the test samples, in
both dry and frozen states, were close to the control tow width,
with a limited change between dry and frozen states. In
general, as the shift angle increased, the shifted section tow
width decreased and had increased variation. The straight and

clamped sections were not significantly affected by the shift


angle. The bent sections saw some effects of an increased shift
angle. The gap percentage increased as the shift angle
increased, approximating a power function. The gap radius of
curvature did not seem to be influenced by a difference in shift
angle. Measured shift angles were close to the programmed
shift angle, with dry samples being more accurate on the
whole. The shift angle accuracy could be improved, but it
worked well enough for the requirements of fitting fiberglass
fabric to a mold. Samples that were infused showed some
effects of compression due to the vacuum bagging process.
Infused samples generally had smaller cross-sectional tow
areas and maximum tow thicknesses while having larger
maximum tow widths compared with frozen samples. Even
though the fiberglass fabric did undergo some deformation
when processed through the shifting machine and later either
frozen or infused, these deformations were small enough to be
acceptable in industry wind turbine blade manufacturing.
VIII. RECOMMENDED FUTURE WORK
Future investigation could be carried out on the differences
between sides of the sample to figure out what caused the
difference in shift angle and gap percentages when testing the
right side versus the left side of the sample. Improving the
accuracy of the actual shift angle compared to the programmed
shift angle would also be of benefit. A more in-depth study
could be made of the cross-section tow measurements, as
usually only one individual tow was measured due to
equipment constraints. Instead of taking partial measurements
from the frozen samples, doing a full analysis on both frozen
and, more importantly, infused samples would verify the
results suggested here.
IX. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The author gratefully recognizes the work of S. Zhu, H.
Schuester, and R. Hartmann in completing these experimental
procedures. Acknowledgement is also due to M. Frank, J.
Jackman, and H. Khazdozian for their assistance with the
initial version of this paper.
X. REFERENCES
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C. Magnussen, A fabric deformation methodology for the


automation of fiber reinforced polymer composite manufacturing,
Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 2011.

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Composites with In-Plane Fiber Waviness, Compos. Mater.
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[3]

L. Raghavan, Industrial looks at ways of manufacturing defects of


fiber reinforced polymer composites, Iowa State University, Ames,
IA, 2014.

[4]

B. C. Kim, P. M. Weaver, and K. Potter, Manufacturing


characteristics of the continuous tow shearing method for
manufacturing of variable angle tow composites, Compos. Part A
Appl. Sci. Manuf., vol. 61, pp. 141151, 2014.

[5]

S. Zhu, An Automated Method for the Layup of Fiberglass


Fabric, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 2015.

[6]

P. Potluri, D. A. Perez Ciurezu, and R. B. Ramgulam,


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