Aluminum Extruder Helps the Future Look Bright
Imagine a vast desert landscape filled to the horizon with enormous mirrors. No, its not the latest scene for a sci-fi thriller. Its the future. The future of clean, efficient energy production: the Nevada Solar One energy field in Boulder City, Nevada.
Curved parabolic mirrors reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receiver pipes that heat fluids used to run conventional steam generators for electricity. The Nevada Solar One field is the world's third largest renewable solar energy plant, generating 64-megawatts of power.
To undertake a project of this size required the imagination, determination and inspiration of some pretty special players. Enter Sapa and Gossamer Space Frames.
In 2005 Gossamer Space Frames was approached by Solargenix, the developer and operations lead for the Nevada Solar One project. Solargenix was looking for a new way to build solar collector frames, something that was more cost-effective, easier to assemble, and more precise. Gossamer took the challenge and partnered with Sapa to design the perfect solution.
A Revolutionary Design
"We had developed a new space frame technology called the Organic Connector," says Gossamer's President, Glenn Reynolds. "This new technology would allow us to meet Solargenix requirements, but only if we had the right supplier. We needed an aluminum extrusion partner that had the right circle diameters, could produce in 6061 T6, extrude in a variety of complicated shapes, fabricate to extreme tolerances and meet just-in-time delivery schedules. Only Sapa's Phoenix operation fit the bill."
Together Gossamer and Sapa fine-tuned the design and manufacturing processes and came up with a tightly toleranced, highly accurate space frame to support the reflective mirrors - a critical function for the success of the overall project.
"Our frames were nearly perfect with no warping," explains Reynolds. "This was critical to the accuracy and efficiency of the solar collectors. When the National Renewable Energy Laboratory came out to check the accuracy of the Nevada Solar One mirror placement, they concluded our frames allowed the mirrors to be 34% more accurate than the nearest competitive design. This translated to an increase in energy production of 4%, or 2.56-megawatts. This was a substantial boost!"
Pulling All the Pieces Together
Making one perfect frame is challenge enough, but Nevada Solar One required 9,120 frames in a year's time. That's where Sapa's manufacturing experience and business prowess came in handy.
"Gossamer provided the critical designs for the space frames. But Sapa stepped up as the primary supplier, arranging for everything else to make the solar field a reality," says Mark Turley, Vice President of Sapa's Western sales operations.
Here's how it all came together: Sapa manufactured extrusions for 36 separate line items at its Phoenix plant. Then the material is sent to its facility in Guaymas, Mexico, to undergo fabrication ranging from punching and multi-hole drilling to CNC fabrication. The pieces were then returned to Phoenix for quality control and then forwarded on to the Nevada Solar One site.
"This was a highly complex operation," explains Turley. "We were not only focused on the extrusion and fabrication of goods, but we managed raw materials sourcing, warehousing and deliveries. Each and every day, 40,000 pounds of aluminum components were transported from Phoenix to Guaymas, from Guaymas to Phoenix, and from Phoenix to Boulder City."
The End Result
By the end of the project, Sapa had supplied over 7 million pounds of aluminum extruded tubing and components, fabricating nearly every piece, and coordinating just-in-time deliveries. Gossamer's Reynolds likens Sapa to a geyser, pumping out impressive amounts of aluminum. "And everybody at Solargenix and Nevada Solar One is happy," Reynolds adds. "Sapa and Gossamer continue to deliver product on-time. Sapa proves day in and day out that it can produce frames quickly and in excellent working condition, and do so on a mass scale."
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