Jul 27, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing has been making a name for itself in the aerospace industry, but the technology has hardly made in impact in another, closely-related sector: the nuclear industry. But that is changing as Rosatom, Russia’s state corporation that runs all domestic nuclear activities (both for military and energy purposes), has just revealed that they are planning to make high quality metal 3D printing part of its non-core business strategy. Among others, they will be 3D printing numerous parts for nuclear power plants and reactors over the coming years.

In part, this new announcement is the logical result of an important unveiling that took place at the International Industrial Trade Fair Innoprom 2016, which was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in early July. There, Rosatom unveiled the first Russian-made TSNIITMASH metal 3D printer. Equipped with a 1,000 watt laser, the 3D printer is expected to have an output of up to 70 cubic centimeters per hour by 2017. Rosatom already promised to bring it to numerous heavy industries throughout Russia. The nuclear sector, which heavily relies on complex metal parts, thus logically comes into view as well.

But of course nuclear applications are not without their risks, so parts have to be reliable in every possible way. That’s why Aleksey Dub, Rosatom’s science and innovations division deputy director, said that they will introduce the technology very gradually. If successful in the nuclear industry, Rosatom will also bring it to other sectors in its portfolio. By the end of 2018, the director suggested, Rosatom should have the expertise they need. “Today, a roadmap and 3D printing development strategy have been formulated,” he said. “There are plans to have equipment, materials and technologies in order to offer the opportunity to implement any design idea.”

Initially, of course, the focus will be on testing of 3D printed parts, to ensure that they can withstand the radiation levels they will be exposed to. But Dub was already very optimistic about their 3D printing opportunities. “The parts will now be manufactured in a single piece, and the technology will greatly speed up the design period; even a sample could be manufactured in just a matter of days,” he said in an interview. “Nuclear power is competing with so many other energy sources, from thermal, to hydropower and wind and solar. To do this, we need to reduce the cost of power plant and equipment construction. 3D printing is going to play an important role in this.”

What’s more, Rosatom is also very keen to remain at the forefront of technological innovation and they are therefore also looking towards the distant future. “You cannot be the first in line without looking into the distance. While 3D printers might not be able to produce real final parts yet, this is all part of our challenge,” Dub argued. “We are therefore planning to have our own 3D printed equipment, our own materials and our own technology, and even sell it on foreign markets. To do so, successfully introducing it into our own industry is the first step.”

So what kind of 3D printed equipment can be expected? While Rosatom is targeting numerous different opportunities, it will doubtlessly take some time before we will actually see 3D printed nuclear reactor cases. “After all, safety is our absolute priority and we cannot therefore promise to 3D print reactor housings or fuel cells tomorrow. We first need to know how these parts behave in the real world. But we do expect to deliver the first results in 2018,” Dub said.

The TSNIITMASH 3D printer is expected to play a huge role in that process, but Rosatom is also still working hard to deliver new materials and technologies for that 3D printer, while they would also like to increase its efficiency. A new and improved version can be expected in 2017. “We might have taken this 3D printing step later than the rest, but we have stepped very far immediately. Our 3D printing chamber is, for instance, much bigger than in those printers developed by foreign companies.” One thing seems clear: metal 3D printing has arrived in Russia, and its developers are keen to bring it into action.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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