Jul 7, 2016 | By Andre

With 3D printing, prototyping still takes the cake when it comes to practical applications of the technology. Don’t get me wrong, education, medical, arts, fashion and entertainment in general have all been touched by the tech in recent years but when you consider its bread and butter, few would argue against prototyping.

So when Siemens and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT announced information of a modular prototyping unit specific to the speedy creation of gas turbine vanes, I wasn't too surprised (impressed yes, but not surprised). The vanes in question are needed to guide hot gas to the appropriate movable rotor blades and a lot needs to be considered for that to happen.

As has been proven over and over again in the past, more traditional methods of manufacturing such as injection and cast moulding for one-off test units is impractical. This becomes truer still when considering the materials (superalloys) and temperatures (up to 1500 degrees Celsius) used in the testing of these specific turbine vanes become so expensive that, as the Fraunhofer institute puts it “severely curtailed the number of tests possible.”

To speed things up, the experts at Siemens developed a laser-based technology (selective laser melting) that allows the produced part to withstand higher temperature over longer periods. One layer at a time (just like any 3D printing process you can think of) the part is produced in smaller components at up to 25cm3 in size for now are later melded together to create a larger, singular unit.

Of course, whenever you are dealing with compartmental production, finishing and assembly methods are almost as important as the 3D printing method in the first place and Siemens seems to have that figured out as well. They write that after “manufacturing via laser, the parts are precisely measured, subjected to finishing, and then joined using high temperature brazing.”

And just like most 3D printing technologies out there, just because a technology was developed for one purpose, that doesn’t mean its use has to end with it. They suggest that the process can be used to connect cast-made and SLM parts together so less expensive methods of production plus the laser sintered parts can be seemlessly merged together so each production method, each with their own advantage, can come together as one.

It’s true that not all too many people are in the business of making turbines and the vanes that go with it, but for those that are it seems like 3D printing is coming to the rescue again. Sure, there are always different ways of going about the production of small run items, whether as a prototype or a production ready part, but its more and more evident that 3D printing is the choice approach for more and more applications every day now.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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