Jack Wallace started working in the wind energy market in 1985. In 1998, he came up with the idea to build variable link blades for wind turbines but he didn’t know how to manufacture the fiberglass components. He taught himself how to make a wind blade and attended the COMPOSITES 2006 in Saint Louis to learn more about composites. Today Wallace is the wind turbine technical advisor for Frontier Pro, a wind blade repair company in Banning, Calif. that helped develop the American Composite Manufacturers Association (ACMA) Certified Composite Technician (CCT) Program for Wind Blade Repair.
What are some of the trends you’ve noticed in the wind energy market?
Having a technical knowledge of composites is one of the most underrated and highly-sought skills for wind blade repair companies. I can easily hire electrical technicians and mechanics off street, but composites technicians are hard to find. I realized that in order to help fill the need for composite wind blade repair at Frontier Pro, I would need to find and train employees.
What was the solution to your composite employee shortage?
I decided to attend ACMA’s COMPOSITES conference (then Composites & Polycon) in order to learn more about composite manufacturing. The first year I went I didn’t find much information for a wind person. The conference was mainly for open molders. I realized that the wind market would soon start looking for solutions in the composites industry and that I could help ACMA get ready for more wind blade questions. I thought, “Hey composites, you may not like it, but your new customer is wind.”
What are some common composite wind blade repairs?
It depends on the age of the turbine. Some of the wind turbines around the country were implemented back in 1985. So, on older machines we see a lot of stress cracks and split bun joints. Most of what we do is related to composite cracks and delamination but there is a whole list of things we can do. We can repair small blades in our manufacturing facility in Banning but we repair larger blades in the field. In order to make the repairs in the field, we hang off ropes and can repair lighting strikes. Afterwards we have to balance the blades to ensure the machine is functioning at optimum levels.
What more would you like to see from composites and why?
One of the biggest problems for composite repair is the weather. It’s difficult – nearly impossible sometimes – to fix a composite part when we’re repairing a blade outside when it’s cold. Inevitably resins are temperature dependent and the UV resins are still difficult to work with. Another thing is in the original manufacturing. We see tons of problems with leading edge erosion on composite blades that are “typical weather wear and tear” but I personally think we can do better. Right now it’s a matter of process and I know it’s possible to build better blades to reduce erosion.
How did you get involved with the CCT program?
Over the years I met and kept in touch with Larry Cox, who helps consult for the CCT program. He was building a new wind repair program and asked if I wanted to help. I was motivated to build a fiberglass repair team and volunteered to help. What I like about the program is that at a basic level, being CCT certified tells me that you’re serious about doing composite repair. I like to think of it as the minimum requirement for building blades.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry?
There’s still more to learn! When you’re working, trying to make money, you don’t have time to experiment. Most people learn how to do something new by actually completing the action. I wish I could learn more but I simply don’t have time. For example, one day I wouldn’t mind building my own countertop, but that takes some experimenting. Composites are flexible, at the point where learning can make a huge difference in the marketplace.