Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have successfully 3D printed large steam turbine blades for energy generation components. This achievement, a collaboration with Siemens Technology and Lincoln Electric, showcases the viability of wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) for producing critical, large-scale parts that traditionally relied on casting and forging methods.
This technique, rooted in welding technology, not only facilitates the production of new parts but also simplifies the repair and maintenance of existing components. Siemens Energy, involved in the project, anticipates leveraging this technology for maintaining and upgrading equipment in service contracts with electric utilities.
Originally focused on component repair, the project’s scope expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic to include printing entire replacement parts, addressing prolonged wait times for new cast blades. Researchers at ORNL have experimented with materials and developed improved methods to evaluate the mechanical performance of printed parts. The steel alloy turbine blade produced signifies the culmination of these efforts.
While traditional casting and forging lead times have decreased, ORNL’s ability to print a blade in 12 hours, with a total production time of two weeks including machining, marks a significant improvement in manufacturing efficiency. This approach also overcomes the challenge of producing turbine blades with complex geometries and no standard locating features.
“There’s now a realization that we cannot get low-volume castings and forgings that exceed 100 or 200 pounds from the domestic supply chain,” said Michael Kirka, lead research and group leader for the Deposition Science and Technology group at ORNL.
“It’s put us in an untenable position, especially as we see how international conflicts have affected the international movement of critical supplies.”
The project, funded by the DOE Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management and conducted at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, demonstrates a significant shift towards more reliable, on-demand manufacturing methods. This method not only increases efficiency but also promises a more flexible and reliable manufacturing future, potentially reshaping the landscape of industrial component production.
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