A New Day For 3D Printing

Siemens finished its first full-load engine tests for conventional and completely new designed gas turbine blades produced using Additive Manufacturing technology.

Siemens has completed its first full-load engine tests for gas turbine blades completely produced using Additive Manufacturing technology. Additive Manufacturing is a process that builds parts layer-by-layer from sliced CAD models to form solid objects. Also known as 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing allows rapid prototyping and is a technology that Siemens has actively invested in to push the boundaries of manufacturing.

“This exciting technology is changing the way we manufacture by reducing the lead time for prototype development up to 90%,” said Willi Meixner, CEO of the Siemens Power and Gas Division. “Siemens is a pioneer in Additive Manufacturing. We can accelerate the development of new gas turbine designs with an increased efficiency and availability, and we can bring these advancements faster to our customers. This new flexibility in manufacturing also allows Siemens to develop the designs closer to the customer’s requirements and to provide spare parts on demand.”

According to Siemens, the company successfully validated multiple Additive Manufacturing printed turbine blades with a conventional blade design at full engine conditions. This means the components were tested at 13,000 rpm and temperatures beyond 2280°F (1250°C).

In addition, Siemens tested a new blade design with a completely revised and improved internal cooling geometry manufactured using the Additive Manufacturing technology. The blades were installed in a Siemens SGT-400 industrial gas turbine with a capacity of 13 MW. The Additive Manufacturing turbine blades are made from a powder of high-performing polycrystalline nickel superalloy, allowing them to endure high pressure, hot temperatures, and the rotational forces of the turbine’s high-speed operation, Siemens said. At full load, each of these turbine blades is traveling at >995 mph (>1600 km/h), carrying 11 tons (9.97 tonnes), is surrounded by gas at 2280°F (1250°C), and cooled by air at >750°F (>400°C). According to Siemens, the advanced blade design provides improved cooling features that can increase overall efficiency of the Siemens gas turbines.

The project team used blades manufactured at its 3D printing facility at Materials Solutions, the newly acquired company in Worcester, United Kingdom. Materials Solutions specializes in high-performance parts for high-temperature applications in turbomachinery. The tests were conducted at the Siemens testing facility in the industrial gas turbine factory in Lincoln, United Kingdom.

“This is a breakthrough success for the use of Additive Manufacturing in the power generation field, which is one of the most challenging applications for this technology,” said Meixner. “Additive Manufacturing is one of our main pillars in our digitalization strategy. The successful tests were the result of a dedicated international project team with contributions from Siemens engineers in Finspång, Lincoln, and Berlin, together with experts from Materials Solutions. In just 18 months they completed the entire chain from component design and Additive Manufacturing material development to new methods for lifting simulations and quality controls. With our combined know-how in 3D printing, we will continue to drive the technological development and application in this field,” added Meixner.

Siemens has made considerable investments in 3D printing technology. In February 2016 Siemens opened a new production facility for 3D printed components in Finspång, Sweden. According to Siemens, the successful test of the advanced blade design is the next step in using the full potential of Additive Manufacturing. The company extensively uses Additive Manufacturing technology for rapid prototyping and has already introduced serial production solutions for components in the gas turbines’ compressor and combustion system. The first 3D printed component for a Siemens heavy-duty gas turbine has been in commercial operation since July 2016.