Sep 7, 2018 | By Thomas

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) engineers are developing a cooled, radial gas turbine for a small generator that provides thousands of hours of electricity to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This development can improve upon current UAV turbines that can only operate a few hundred hours before wearing out.

The SwRI-developed cooled, radial gas turbine was created with a specialized 3D printer that can craft layered and highly detailed metal parts. Credit: Image Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

A turbine is a type of rotary mechanical devices that, when combined with a generator, produces electrical power. The problem with current UAV turbines is that during the generator’s combustion process, the turbine is constantly bathed in high temperature gas that ultimately damages or destroys it. According to the SwRI engineers, the version they are creating is "more compact and efficient, tailored to the needs of a small, unmanned aircraft."

“The hotter the turbine gets, the better its performance,” said David Ransom of SwRI’s Mechanical Engineering Division. “But these smaller turbines can’t survive the temperature, so we’ve designed one that has tiny airflow passages that cool the turbine without sacrificing the power of its performance. Normally with small turbines you have to make a choice between performance or reliability, but we’re making it possible to have both.”

SwRI engineers have worked with internal passages of high temperature turbines on large version which were often used in power plants and passenger airplanes. They are using a new selective laser melting (SLM) additive manufacturing machine to create the small, intricate design with internal air passages. The SLM technique uses a high power-density laser to melt and fuse metallic powders together layer by layer.

To leverage the capability of the new SLM 3D printer, SwRI formed an internal R&D program known as the Metals Additive Kickoff Emphasizing Research Synergies (MAKERS). The new turbine is one of the first products to result from the MAKERS program.

"Generators that provide power to us and to big aircraft already have cooled turbines, whereas a generator of this size for a small craft does not," Ransom said. "It's an exciting engineering challenge, and having the ability to 3D print parts with the SLM machine is a real advantage."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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