Nov 11, 2016 | By Tess

A heating power plant near Berlin, Germany is pioneering the use of 3D printed parts in its operations and has so far demonstrated promising results.

Just over a year ago, the Berlin Mitte power plant, operated by Swedish power company Vattenfall, began integrating 3D printing technology into its processes through the implementation of 3D printed first-stage heat shields and first-stage vanes in its GE natural gas turbine. The 3D printed parts have not only been manufactured more efficiently than standard ones, but have also proven to be more efficient, resulting in millions of dollars saved.

The 3D printed parts, which help the GE natural gas turbine run more smoothly and use less fuel, each weigh about 4.5 kg and are about the size of a laptop, making them some of, it not the largest 3D printed components used in a commercially operated gas turbine.

Wolfgang Muller, product line leader of GE Power Services’ gas turbine e-fleet, explains the significance of the 3D printed parts saying, “3D printing is often thought of in terms of very small, complex components. We’re proving now that actually, you can commercially manufacture large pieces for turbines.”

How have the 3D printed components made a difference? Well, traditionally the turbine parts are heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius and have to be continually cooled down by air. The cooling air, about 400 to 500 degrees Celsius, is blown by the machine through channels cut into the turbine components. While the cooling process is essential, it also makes the turbine marginally less efficient.

With 3D printing, however, the turbine parts which are traditionally casted can be specially designed to integrate complex channels and pathways which help to cool the components down much more efficiently. According to Muller, a turbine with all or mostly 3D printed heat shields can reduce the the cooling flow by over 40%, drastically reducing cooling costs—even into the millions of dollars.

Additionally, the turbine’s 3D printed first-stage vane, which is notable as being one of the hottest parts of a turbine, has cut down down on necessary cooling air by 15%. While the percentage might seem substantially less than for the heat shields, it still amounts to about $3 million in savings every year.

Of course, the Berlin Mitte power plant, as one of the most modern power plants in Europe, is ahead of the game, as many power plants continue to operate using traditionally cast parts for turbines. Muller, who recognizes the gap that exists between industrial designers who work with 3D printing and those who work with casting, is hoping that one day soon the two sides will merge.

Hopefully, with the promise of saving money, more power plants will be drawn towards using 3D printing, as it offers a more cost and fuel-efficient way of working, as demonstrated by the Mitte power plant.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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