More than just a cool process, it offers real benefits


3D printing is a process used to create an object by sequentially adding building material in successive cross sections, stacked on top of each other. It is a form of additive manufacturing. Once considered a novelty, 3D printing has become an incredibly valuable production method used to create very complex designs, including gas turbine components such as combustion chambers.

“We see a lot of activity and creative designs in the combustion section of gas turbines,” said Scott Green, senior solutions manager at 3D Systems Inc., as a guest on The POWER podcast. 3D Systems claims to have started the 3D printing industry in 1986 when the company’s co-founder, Charles Hull, filed a patent for its stereolithography (SLA) device. The company now offers a broad portfolio of hardware, software and hardware solutions ranging from plastics to metals, and has extensive experience in the development and manufacture of turbomachines and turbine components.

“If you look in the combustion box, there are a lot of really cool designs for fuel injectors or mixers,” Green said. “It lends itself well to additive manufacturing, as anything inside the combustion box will fit most mid-frame direct metal 3D printers. They are not massive components. It’s shoebox size things that are part of a larger system. Now these are relatively easy to graphically represent for engineers. They can spend a ton of time making the most efficient fuel injector possible, you know, with efficient capillaries and swirling and mixing structures that are internal, really eliminating tons of braising operations. So we see a lot of great designs in the combustion box, in the combustion components. “

When it comes to quality, 3D printed components often compare favorably to traditionally manufactured parts. “Direct-to-metal printing and production printing are good enough these days that designers can start designing components with additive manufacturing in mind and know they can come up with highly efficient parts that are everything. as good, if not better. , from the point of view of integrity as traditionally manufactured parts, and from a functional point of view, far exceeding the capacity of traditionally manufactured parts, ”said Green.

In addition to combustion chamber parts, 3D printing is also used to fabricate stator vanes, impellers, housings, and pipeline components for electrical industry applications. One reason is that consolidating multiple part assemblies into one piece increases manufacturing efficiency and component reliability, while the integration of highly efficient cooling channels improves thermal performance. Additionally, new levels of machine performance can be unlocked through additive manufacturing by improving design features and using materials resistant to extreme temperatures. All of this can be accomplished while reducing manufacturing costs and eliminating the need for expensive and time-consuming tooling and five-axis machining.

Many other industries have found 3D printing solutions interesting as well. 3D Systems works closely with the automotive, aerospace, defense, semiconductor and healthcare industries, among others.

Reducing waste is also an advantage of 3D printing. “If you’re going to machine a five-axle wheel – a traditional wheel or a streamlined wheel, for example, for a power generation system – you are machining it from a block, a titanium billet, or ‘Inconel or some other expensive material, and when you machine it you waste about 90% of that product, it just goes in the trash with the coolant and has to be recovered, ”Green explained. “The really cool thing about additives is that you can actually print that final shape or part with almost no waste – the powder is recycled. This wheel will come off the machine with a faster delivery time, less waste, potentially thanks to better design features. “

According to Green, determining whether 3D printing is right for a specific application comes down to a six-step process. He said that not all customers will go through all stages, but the progression has led to the success of many businesses. “What we want to do is talk to the customer about their application. We want to know more about what you do, why you are interested in 3D printing and understand what the subject is, ”he said.

If a customer has a specific problem to solve and a goal in mind, like improving efficiency by 10% or increasing speed by 10%, the team will strive to achieve that result. They will determine which parts are suitable for additive manufacturing and which are not. “For those who are right for you, let us help you develop how to make them. So, we’ll recommend which machine will even do the process of build setup, material selection (alloy selection with you), testing and validation, and proof that the process actually works. And then, at that point, we can take over the production of the bridges, which means we work with you to find the right cost, the right volume and the right schedule to manufacture the parts for you, ”explained Green. “What we want to do is help provide a plan to do the thing that solves the problem you have to whoever is going to be using the equipment.”

To hear the full interview, which includes more examples of work done by 3D Systems for the energy industry, and more about the benefits of 3D printing, including the ability to provide digital inventory and produce parts that are obsolete or hard to find, listen The POWER podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to go to the show’s page on your favorite podcast platform:

For more powerful podcasts visit The POWER podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is the editor-in-chief of POWER (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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