Mar 9, 2017 | By David
Global technology giant Siemens achieved a 3D printing world-first today, as a part it produced with 3D printing methods was installed in a nuclear power plant. This represents a major breakthrough and a huge vote of confidence in 3D printing technology from the nuclear power sector, as the parts it uses have to meet extremely high standards for safety and reliability.
A nuclear plant in Krško, Slovenia was the site of this major industry milestone. A 108mm diameter impeller, for a fire protection pump, was 3D printed by a team of Siemens’ engineering experts and installed successfully. The 3D printed part was a replacement for an older impeller, used in a water pump that provides pressure for the plant’s fire protection system.
The plant has been in operation since 1981 with the original part, and the company that manufactured it was no longer in business. However, with the help of 3D printing technology, a virtual replica of the part was created and subsequently printed with a 3D printer at Siemens’ additive manufacturing facility in Finspang, Sweden. The additive manufacturing project was code-named Perun, after the mythological Slavic god of lightning who is closely associated with metallurgy.
This recreation of the otherwise obsolete part is a promising development for the nuclear industry and more generally for older facilities in all industries, showing the potential for 3D printing to extend their operational life. Reverse engineering can be used in these kinds of cases where original designs are difficult or impossible to obtain, and so 3D printing technology allows the full life expectancy of a facility to be achieved. In the case of Krsko, the plant is actually now able to operate longer than originally predicted.
The huge risks involved with nuclear power mean that requirements for safety and quality in the industry are incredibly stringent. According to rankings by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group, the plant in Krško is one of the safest plants in Europe. The 3D printed part was therefore subject to extensive testing to determine its suitability, lasting several months. This was carried out at Krsko as well as at an independent facility, and the material testing including a CT scan of the part. Results of the test showed the replacement part’s material properties to be superior to its non-3D printed original. According to Tim Holt, CEO of Siemens Power Generation Services division. "This achievement at the Krško nuclear power plant is another example of how the digital transformation and the data-driven capabilities we have are impacting the energy industry in ways that really matter.’’ As well as the improved quality of the parts, he highlights the reduced production times as another huge advantage offered to the industry by 3D printing.
The plant in Krško provides over a quarter of Slovenia’s power and 15 percent of Croatia’s and it has been partenered with Siemens for over a decade. Mostly Siemens’ work has been for the non-nuclear side, providing service and modifications for the turbine and generator equipment. Research into ways that 3D printing technology can be implemented for production of parts is ongoing.
Siemens’ additive manufacturing facility in Finspang has been advancing 3D technology in manufacturing since 2009, and other energy sectors have been benefitting greatly from their innovations. 3D printing parts for gas turbines, for example, offers an approximate 50 percent reduction in lead time and a 75 percent reduction in development time. A power plant in Brno, Czech Republic has been operating since June 2016 with a 3D printed burner component, produced by Siemens, for its gas turbine. This part is the first of its kind in the industry, and it has achieved 1,600 equivalent operating hours without causing any forced outages.
This latest development in Krško is a very promising sign for the 3D printing industry. 3D printing technology's capacity to meet such a high standard of quality and safety can only demonstrate its vast potential to all sectors, and further confirm its status to major companies such as Siemens as the future of manufacturing.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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