Binder jetting 3D printer to streamline production of GE’s Haliade-X turbines

Haliade-X prototype. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy

GE Renewable Energy, Fraunhofer IGCV and voxeljet have announced a research partnership to develop what is claimed to be the world’s largest 3D printer for offshore wind applications.

The Advance Casting Cell (ACC) 3D printer is currently under development and aims to streamline the production of key components of GE’s Haliade-X offshore wind turbine.

The project involves the development of a new, large-format 3D printer capable of producing sand molds for casting the highly complex metal parts of different shapes and sizes that make up an offshore wind turbine nacelle.

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The modular 3D printing process is based on voxeljet’s core “Binder-Jetting” technology and can be configured to print molds for castings up to 9.5 meters in diameter and 60-plus tons in weight.

The 3D printing process will reduce the time it takes to produce this pattern and mold from ten weeks or more to two weeks and is expected to reduce the product’s carbon footprint by eliminating the need to transport the large parts from a central manufacturing location.

Juan Pablo Cilia, Senior Additive Design Engineer at GE Renewable Energy, said: “The 3D printed molds will bring many benefits including improved casting quality through improved surface finish, part accuracy and consistency.

“Furthermore, sand binder jet molds or additive molds provide cost savings by reducing machining time and other material costs due to optimized design.

“This unprecedented production technology will be a game changer for production efficiency allowing localised manufacturing in high-cost countries, a key benefit for our customers looking to maximize the local economic development benefits of offshore wind.”

The Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV is responsible for casting and materials technology issues as well as digital process monitoring.

“We are taking a close look at thermal management during casting, and we will evaluate the ideal proportions of the printing materials,” said Dr Daniel Günther, Head of Department Molding Processes and Molding Materials at Fraunhofer IGCV.

“Also, we will develop and test new approaches to process monitoring as part of the project.”

The sustainability aspect is a firmly established guiding principle of research at Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, according to the institute’s director, Prof. Dr Wolfram Volk, who adds: “We aim to optimise the mold printing to avoid extremely costly misprints or even miscasts, to save on binder and activator, and to improve mechanical and thermal behaviour during casting.

“By developing a process that conserves resources as much as possible, we want to help to improve the environmental and cost balance in the manufacture of wind turbines.”

Christian Traeger, Director of Marketing and Sales at voxeljet, said, “The test mold we printed for GE in 2019 consisted of dozens of individual parts. With the ACC, we aim to print a significantly reduced number of parts for the full set.

“Added to that, the mold can be optimized in terms of functionality and material consumption. This optimisation makes completely new casting designs possible that can further enhance the efficiency of the turbines.”

“While offsite on-demand 3D printing provides many benefits for small quantities of cast parts, running a 3D printing system on-site leverages the technology to its fullest capacity. Given the demand for offshore wind turbines, that will help a lot to fulfil project schedules and high market demands,” adds Dr Ingo Ederer, CEO at voxeljet.

The project will receive funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and is expected to launch during the third quarter of 2021, with initial printer trials starting during the first quarter of 2022.

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