3D printing emerging as transformative technology for power sector, reveals GlobalData

3D printing is steadily opening up opportunities for the power industry, with applications such as renewable energy, conventional power and battery energy storage. The technology is expected to further enhance manufacturing with the invention of larger printers, and advances in 3D-printing technology are set to revolutionize the nuclear power industry as scientists take advantage of developing flexible materials, 3D-printed parts and nuclear sensors layer by layer, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s latest report, ‘Thematic Research: 3D Printing in Power’, highlights that, with the power industry under pressure, manufacturers are focusing on 3D printing due to its decreased costs and shorter timeframes. Power sector companies such as Siemens, GE, Rosatom and Westinghouse have been early adopters in the industrialization of 3D printing.

Sneha Susan Elias, Senior Analyst of Power at GlobalData, comments: “Power utilities and equipment manufacturers are witnessing a huge opportunity in 3D printing to make their operations more efficient. Vestas views 3D printing as its key enabling technology for wind turbines and replacement parts in the future.”

In April 2018, Siemens achieved a milestone by producing the first 3D printed metal replacement parts for an industrial steam turbine. According to the company, this is a game-changer as it can reduce the lead time for producing these parts by 40%. The company acquired 3D printing specialist Materials Solutions in 2016 as part of its strategic plan to set up a global additive manufacturing (AM) service business. Siemens is investing €30m in a 3D printing facility in the UK for Materials Solutions.

Elias adds: “Siemens will also utilize AM technology for its HL-class gas turbines (SGT5-9000HL), for which the company has announced a collaboration with SSE in June 2018 to deploy this 50Hz turbine at its Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) Keadby 2 power station in the UK. In addition, Siemens and E.ON also attained a major 3D printing milestone through its 3D-printed burner for an SGT-700 industrial gas turbine operating at E.ON’s combined cycle power plant (CCPP) located in Philippsthal, Germany.

GE has already shipped 9,000 3D-printed gas turbine components. 3D printing will be used to enhance the efficiency of the company’s turbines, opening up the possibility to quickly manufacture and test prototypes.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has been supporting the development of 3D printing for applications in energy. Recently, in July 2018, the DOE selected 15 projects to receive $8.8m of federal funding. These projects are for research and development (R&D) purposes to develop innovative technologies for fossil fuel power systems. The DOE’s Wind Program and Advanced Manufacturing Office has also partnered with public and private organizations to apply AM to the production of wind turbine blade molds and foster innovation in wind technologies.

Elias added: “Another area where 3D printing is being used in the power industry is in solar panels. Although this is still at a nascent stage, experts say that it could enable the production of higher efficiency solar cells than is presently possible through traditional screen-printing techniques. Called 3DPCoin (T3DP), the team refers to a 3D printing research project that was initiated in 2013 by Daniel Clark, the inventor of T3DP’s 3D-printed solar power technique. This project employs a patented volumetric 3D-printing method to construct perovskite-based solar photovoltaic (PV) panels that can almost double the conversion efficiency of the present solar PV panels.

“R&D is also ongoing to identify the applications of 3D printing in the nuclear power industry. Recently, in October 2019, scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) were involved in printing 3D parts, aiding in recycling up to 97% of the nuclear waste produced by nuclear power reactors.”

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