Nov 2, 2017 | By David

3D printing technology is gradually being implemented more and more in various sectors throughout the power industry, with nuclear energy being a key area of growth. Continuing this trend, the first 3D printed fuel component in a commercial nuclear reactor looks set to be installed by Fall 2018. Westinghouse is the company that will be achieving this 3D printing milestone, and it is currently in the process of researching various different additive manufacturing processes, with support from the U.S Department of Energy.

Westinghouse is currently planning to install a thimble plugging device, made of AM 316L stainless steel and non-AM 304, in a commercial reactor. This breakthrough will follow the recent installation of a 3D printed component at the Krsko nuclear plant in Slovenia, where Siemens replaced an obsolete fire protection pump with an updated piece made using additive manufacturing technology. GE Hitachi has also been active on this front, leading a project to swap out older parts for 3D printed replacements in order to keep plants operational.

Westinghouse is planning to use 3D printing not only to replace obsolete component designs, but also to produce prototypes and fuel parts for reactors in the next generation of nuclear plants. Currently, it is experimenting with the use of AM casting moulds to produce safety-related castings, including replacement large brackets and bearing housings for electric motors.  The research should hopefully demonstrate that the 3D printing process can be used to reduce the cost and lead time of many cast parts, including valve bodies and piping sections and connections. The flexibility of the 3D printing approach also allows designers to create more complex castings, which would not be possible using traditional sand casting.

The support of Westinghouse by the Department of Energy goes back to last year, when the DOE allocated Westinghouse $8 million towards several R&D projects focused on advancing innovative technologies, including a three-year effort focused on qualifying powder bed fusion additive manufacturing processes for nuclear components. In July 2017, the DOE then allocated Westinghouse a further $830,000 in federal funding to study the neutron radiation effects on zirconium alloys produced via the additive manufacturing process for light water reactors (LWRs).

According to Clint Armstrong, Advanced Manufacturing Expert at Westinghouse , 3D printing technology could cut manufacturing costs for replacement reactor parts in half.  “These cost and lead time reduction estimates still look appropriate for certain replacement castings, using current cost estimates for AM casting moulds and the associated foundries/casting processes”, he said. The main obstacle that prevents a more widespread implementation of AM is the lack of performance data for many of the materials used by these processes: “The main challenge in qualifying AM materials is the variability of material properties and overall part quality based on the feedstock material, AM process parameters and part geometry... To combat this, most users are printing multiple parts for destructive testing, as well as multiple test specimens with production parts,” he said.

To hopefully speed things up a bit and allow the 3D printing revolution to gain some momentum in the nuclear industry, Westinghouse is currently collaborating on a project with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, the University of Tennessee and Rolls-Royce, to develop an “in-process monitoring and integrated computational materials engineering process,” to reduce the qualification process for AM. Officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) also recently met with nuclear power AM proponents, from the industry as well as the research community, to discuss standardization procedures.  A two-day workshop in Washington DC is planned for late November.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Alex Maxim wrote at 11/7/2017 6:30:02 PM:

It is not clear from the article if the 3D is used to fabricate actual pump bodies and piping connections (which can be very challenging for pressure boundary components) or to produce casting molds for such components, which makes total sense and it is great idea.

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