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03 Jul 2021

Why 3D printing holds new opportunities for the energy sector

Pamela Largue
Why 3D printing holds new opportunities for the energy sector
3D printed gas turbine blades
“What you need to do to ensure additive manufacturing is really successful is to go the whole way, to incorporate new designs, new manufacturing technology and new materials to really ensure superior product properties.”

So said Johannes Schleifenbaum, Professor of Digital Additive Production at RWTH Aachen University in an enlightening panel discussion on how additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing holds great potential for the energy sector.

The digital discussion – produced by Enlit Europe and moderated by PEi Editor Kelvin Ross – delved into the nitty-gritty of what 3D printing is, how it could benefit the power sector and what the key limitations are to consider.

Listen to the discussion on demand


What is additive manufacturing?

Schleifenbaum describes AM as “not really a single manufacturing technology, it’s more or less an umbrella under which there are 25, or even more, dedicated technologies all in the same manner of layer-wise production. It’s more what I term a ‘production philosophy’ of building products layer-wise and manipulating not only the outer shape but also the interior parts”.

Julius Schurb, Project Lead, Digital Engineering & Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Energy explained the actual process involved in AM – how the technology fits into a process chain, from design and simulation through to application.

Explains Schurb: “In order to maximise the process chain, we need to understand the process chain, especially as it’s a completely digital process. In depth machine characterization also helps to boost the quality of the product. Siemens use end-to-end additive, which manages the process chain from ensuring the right design concept to post-processing”.

Image credit: Siemens Energy

Currently, AM is used in new product applications and in additive repair, which has been around since the 1990’s and is applied in use cases such as in gas turbines and tip repair on wind turbine blades, according to the speakers.

In terms of future research and development, 3D printing will increasingly be used to produce the complex metal-organic frameworks that allow for the storage of hydrogen and to print water electrodes for water splitting, used in the production of hydrogen. Speakers agreed we will also see the increased use of metal binder jetting technology, which can improve the economics of production.

Image credit: Siemens Energy

Limitations and benefits

According to the panel, a lower carbon footprint and greater efficiency are tangible benefits to the latest advances in the field of additive manufacturing. Freedom of design, increased complexity, and agile manufacturing processes are also seen as major advantages, where even mature fleets can be upgraded to accommodate, for example, hydrogen.

According to Markus Seibold, Vice-President Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Energy, the team plans to increase the printed parts in gas turbines from 2% to 20% within the next five years.

He added: “For this, we need to do quite a bit of technology development to broaden the capability scope. The more additive parts used will drive footprint down and efficiency up”.

Listen to the discussion on demand

However, speakers agreed technical limitations must be noted. These include machine size or build envelope and materials portfolio, especially when you need to use high-performance alloys such as in gas turbines.

Seibold also emphasized that the business case of AM can be viewed as a limitation, as it’s all down to ensuring topline growth, bottom-line savings or cash flow reduction. “Improvements are still needed in terms of productivity and machine robustness to open the window to broader business cases,” he said.

Schleifenbaum added: “To maximise the benefit of AM, you have to incorporate complexity, incorporate multi-physics, incorporate structural design with flow design – this is complicated and also a limitation when it comes to the design of the product.”

All panelists agreed that process reliability and repeatability are key to AM. The time is now to begin scaling up additive-focused supply chains, as well as improve productivity and product cost.

This article was originally published on Power Engineering International


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