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Made in Colorado 2016: Manuel Rubio

Blade-maker Vestas held promise for young Coloradan

Eric Peterson //March 18, 2016//

Made in Colorado 2016: Manuel Rubio

Blade-maker Vestas held promise for young Coloradan

Eric Peterson //March 18, 2016//

Manuel Rubio

manufacturing supervisor

Vestas Blades, Brighton

A  truly international company, windmill giant Vestas employs more than 3,000 people in Colorado.

Among them is Rubio, who joined the blade-making operation in 2011. The 25-year-old Boulder native just earned a promotion, his third in less than four years at Vestas – which is a big reason Rubio originally applied for a job at the Denmark-based wind giant’s blade-making plant in Brighton.

Before, he’d worked assembling valves for a Boulder manufacturer. “There were no opportunities,” says Rubio. So when he heard Vestas was hiring in Brighton, he jumped at the chance and landed a job in production.

It all starts with pouring massive amounts of epoxy into a mold that’s more than 50 meters long to make a shell. Next, imbued with “webs” of fiberglass, two 54- or 57-meter shells make a single blade. “There’s no metal,” says Rubio. “Fiberglass will bend like we want it to. Metal will crack.”

After the shells are sealed into a single blade, it’s hand-sanded and robot-painted, and inspected every step of the way. Numerous overhead cranes and forklifts move the blades around the cavernous facility before they’re shipped to installation sites all over North America.

Coming from working with small valves, Rubio was initially surprised by the sheer scale of the operation. “It was really amazing because of how big the blades are,” he says of his first days on the job.

But the size of the blades doesn’t mean the little details aren’t critical: The margins for error are just a few millimeters and kilograms. 

“Quality is the responsibility of everybody,” Rubio says. “It’s something we thrive on.”

He says he takes serious pride in making the best blade possible. “Even though the processes are standardized, that’s something to feel good about. We’re always wondering, ‘How did our blade turn out?’” When one comes back with a perfect inspection, Rubio adds, the team celebrates: “We nailed that one – no repairs!”

He quickly learned the blade operation is all about teamwork. “You can’t build a blade 54 meters long by yourself,” says Rubio. “It can be 13 to 16 people, depending on the process.”

Training is accomplished by shadowing “a buddy” on the team for 90 days, job cards that detail the different processes, and visiting experts from Vestas operations in Europe and elsewhere.

“It wasn’t hard for me because I love working with a team,” says Rubio. “There are a lot of different personalities – you’re never bored here.”

But he says he also likes the job because of the benefits and the schedule. “That’s what I love about working here: You get three days on and three days off, so I can spend time with my family.”