Seeing the future in 3D

After achieving additive manufacturing success in the gas turbine and nuclear sectors, Siemens is to invest $36 million in a state-of-the-art 3D printing facility in the UK,
writes Kelvin Ross

Siemens’ new additive manufacturing building in Worcester, England will house its 3D-printing specialist Materials Solutions, which it acquired in 2016.

According to the company, the factory is set to open in September. It will allow Materials Solutions to increase its fleet of 3D-printing machines from 15 to 50 and is also expected to create around 55 new jobs, increasing the workforce of engineers, metallurgists and manufacturing specialists to 80.

Siemens owns an 85 per cent stake in Materials Solutions, which is a pioneer in the use of Selective Laser Melting (SLM) technology for the manufacture of high-performance metal parts, with a focus on high-temperature superalloys.

Siemens said the investment is part of its plans to build and grow a global business of additive manufacturing services. “Additive manufacturing is a major pillar in our digitization strategy,” said Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens UK.

“This significant investment underlines our belief that there is huge potential for innovation and growth within the additive manufacturing sector.

“It is also the next step towards achieving our ambition of pioneering the industrialization of this exciting new technology and demonstrates how we are leading the way for the fourth industrial revolution.”

Maier recently led the Made Smarter review for the UK government on behalf of industry in Britain.

The in-depth review forms part of the UK industrial strategy and called for much greater national investment in additive manufacturing, arguing it will significantly boost industrial productivity and create new highly-skilled jobs.

Maier added, “If the UK’s manufacturing sector is to grow and thrive, we must embrace digital technologies and build new industries based on them. Our vision and ambition for Materials Solutions perfectly represents how we are putting this strategy into practice.”

Phil Hatherley, general manager of Materials Solutions, said: “Our Worcester-based team are specialists in using additive manufacturing technology to solve complex engineering challenges for our customers across a range of sectors including aerospace, automotive and power generation. Our new facility will give us the space and scope to continue to innovate for these specialist and demanding industries and achieve a shift in the perception of 3D printing from being a technology associated with prototyping to a viable option for the serial production of additively manufactured

The first 3D-printed burner component for a Siemens heavy-duty gas turbine has been in successful commercial operation in a power plant in Brno, Czech Republic, since June 2016.

Last year, Siemens successfully tested gas turbine blades produced entirely through metal-based 3D printing.

The blades, tested under full-load engine conditions at 13,000 rpm and temperatures above 1250oC, were produced by Materials Solutions and the tests were conducted at Siemens’ industrial gas turbine factory in Lincoln, UK using a SGT-400 industrial gas turbine.

Hatherley added: “We were incredibly proud to have achieved a world-first last year ” the production of a successfully tested 3D printed gas turbine blade ” and I believe our new factory will facilitate similar achievements for our customers operating in other highly demanding environments, allowing us to maintain our position at the leading edge of this incredibly exciting industry.”

UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “Britain has a proud manufacturing heritage and through our Industrial Strategy the government has set out a vision and plan that will build on this strength and create an environment that enables manufacturers to continue to thrive. The investment being made by Siemens into UK advanced manufacturing demonstrates the confidence businesses have in the strategy.

“Innovation is at the heart of the future of UK manufacturing and this factory will produce a game-changing technology that has the potential to transform the UK’s industrial base, demonstrating industry backing of the approach set out in Made Smarter and making the sector even more productive and competitive in global markets.”

Discussing the new investment, Markus Seibold, vice-president of Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Power & Gas, said: “About ten years ago, additive manufacturing was mainly used to create prototypes rather than marketable products. Over the last decade, I’ve personally observed groundbreaking progress, especially in the area of 3D-printed metal parts using the selective laser melting method.

“Today, most observers rank additive manufacturing among the essential elements of the fourth industrial revolution. This is easy to understand if we take a closer look at the benefits of this new manufacturing technology. Additive manufacturing can help shorten development and lead time, ease the supply chain, increase production efficiency, reduce costs, improve product functionality and enable new and ‘impossible’ product designs.”

Seibold said that additive manufacturing “starts much earlier than the actual printing process”.

“The first step is an analysis to determine the parts that additive manufacturing would most benefit, followed by a feasibility study. The next steps are usually to select the appropriate material and create the design of the component using computer-aided design (CAD) software. A prerequisite for printing the parts is automation software for the printer that translates the CAD data for the printer. The printing process is followed by post processing and product tests.”

He added that Siemens was “in the fortunate position of owning all the necessary knowledge and solutions for the entire value chain of additive manufacturing”.

“We started to use additive manufacturing in our work already years ago for rapid prototyping and service. Today, we can look back on 100,000 operating hours of our 3D-printed gas turbine parts. After detailed product analyses, we identified more than
200 components we wanted to produce using Additive Manufacturing by 2022.”

In 3D printing, a digital design is fed to a machine that “prints” thin layers of material one at a time. Though 3D printing at the consumer level is frequently done with plastics, Siemens’ blades were made from the powder of a polycrystalline nickel superalloy, and designed with a cooling internal geometry to increase the overall efficiency of Siemens gas

Last year Siemens also successfully installed a 3D-printed part in a nuclear power plant. The replacement part produced for the Krà…¡ko nuclear plant in Slovenia is a metallic, 108 mm diameter impeller for a fire protection pump that is in constant rotating operation.

The water pump provides pressure for the fire protection system at the plant.

The original impeller was in operation since the plant was commissioned in 1981 and its original manufacturer is no longer in business.

Siemens says obsolete, non-OEM parts are particularly well-suited for 3D printing as they and their designs are virtually impossible to obtain. Additive manufacturing “allows mature operating plants to continue operating and achieving or, as in the Krà…¡ko case, even extending, their full life expectancy”.

Siemens’ team in Slovenia reverse-engineered and created a ‘digital twin’ of the part. The company’s additive manufacturing facility in Finspàƒ¥ng, Sweden, then applied its advanced AM process using a 3D printer to produce the part.

“We continue to push forward our investments and cutting-edge advancements in additive manufacturing and 3D printing,” said Tim Holt, chief executive of Siemens’ Power Generation Services division.

“This achievement at the Krà…¡ko nuclear power plant is another example of how the digital transformation and the data-driven capabilities we have are impacting the energy industry in ways that really matter.

“Additive manufacturing’s reduced lead times and faster production optimizes parts replacement and creates real value for our customers.”

Meeting the Krà…¡ko NPP’s stringent quality and safety assurance requirements required extensive testing that was performed jointly with the Krà…¡ko operations team over several months, ensuring that the new 3D-printed part would perform safely and reliably.

Further material testing at an independent institute, as well as a CT scan, showed that the material properties of the 3D-printed part were superior to those of the original part.

“The better than expected performance of this 3D-printed part gave us confidence that we can reach the full life expectancy from our asset,” says Vinko Planinc, head of maintenance at the Krà…¡ko plant.

Krà…¡ko is among the highest-ranked of European nuclear power plants by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group in terms of safety according to assessments following Fukushima. It provides more than one-quarter of Slovenia’s and 15 per cent of Croatia’s power, making it vitally important to the

Siemens and Krà…¡ko plan to continue research and development in this area and are looking at advancing the design of parts that are most difficult to produce using classical manufacturing techniques, such as lightweight structures with improved cooling pattern.

Andreas Graichen, Group Manager for the Additive Manufacturing Centre of Competence at Siemens Power Service in Sweden, told PEi that “new techniques and technologies are continuously being added to the AM arsenal”.

“What possibilities will 3D printing eventually uncover? No one can say with any accuracy. Certainly, the design and manufacture of turbomachinery components is in for something of a paradigm shift. But beyond that, some anticipate that a revolution in material science is quite likely.

“After all, the latest tools may well permit designers to conduct simulations of material properties to target higher performance, greater durability at high temperature, greater ability to cope with rapid power plant cycling and other desirable outcomes. This may well lead to the formulation of materials and alloys that haven’t been conceived of today.”

Kelvin Ross is chief editor of PEi magazine

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