Back in 2015, German engineering group Siemens formalized a strategic investment package with UK-based Materials Solutions, an additive manufacturing specialist in nickel superalloy components for gas turbines, as well as specialist steel and titanium components for aeronautics systems and motor sports. Siemens recently acquired the company, and also announced in October its new end-to-end solution that’s designed to help companies maximize the use of additive manufacturing for product development.
Another announcement that was discussed during the company’s recent annual shareholder’s meeting is being hailed as a “major step forward” in using additive manufacturing to make critical, functional components: Siemens engineers successfully tested new 3D printed gas turbine blades, which were manufactured at Materials Solutions.
In the English translation of the shareholder’s meeting webcast, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, introduced the small 3D printed turbine.
“It may seem rather insignificant, a small element, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s barely 8 centimers high, but it has to withstand extreme temperatures. It is a blade for a gas turbine, and it’s about the most demanding thing one can print these days.”
Full load engine tests for the additively manufactured power generation gas turbine blades were recently completed at the company’s industrial gas turbine factory. The blades, with a conventional blade design at full engine conditions, were subjected to 13,000 revolutions per minute, at temperatures beyond 1,250°C, and were successfully validated. The blades were installed in a 13MW Siemens SGT-400 industrial gas turbine and were able to hold up under high pressure, extreme temperatures, and high-speed rotational forces, because they were additively manufactured using a powder made from high-performing polycrystalline nickel superalloy. Siemens engineers also tested a new blade design that featured an improved internal cooling geometry, which could only be achieved through 3D printing.
Will Meixner, CEO of the Siemens Power and Gas Division, said, “This is a breakthrough success for the use of additive manufacturing in the power generation field, which is one of the most challenging applications for this technology.”
This specific division offers a wide variety of solutions and products to engineering, utilities, and procurement companies, among others, for the reliable transport of oil and gas and efficient energy production. At full load, each one of the new turbine blades was traveling at speeds of over 1,600 km per hour, carrying roughly the weight of a completely loaded London bus, surrounded by gas at 1,250°C and cooled by air at over 400°C. Meixner also stated that this breakthrough will allow Siemens to focus on accelerating new gas turbine designs.
Meixner said, “This new flexibility in manufacturing also allows Siemens to develop closer to the customer’s requirements and also to provide spare parts on demand.”
Siemens said that it was the first company to perform such a “breakthrough” test on blades like this, with full load engine conditions and the proper temperatures and revolutions per minute. According to capital goods analyst James Stettler of Barclays, every single vendor across the supply chain needs to be on their toes, due to how rapidly technology is moving these days. So it’s a good thing that, according to the shareholder’s meeting webcast, Siemens invests $500 million worldwide every year in training their employees on the newest innovations.
Prices are under “extreme pressure” for gas-fired power generation turbines, and Siemens revealed last week that new projects were being deferred, and that the company had to “fight for every order.” When asked, a spokesman for Siemens said that the technology reduced the design-to-testing time from two years down to two months, but could not estimate when exactly the 3D printed gas turbine blades would begin commercial production. Discuss in the Siemens forum at 3DPB.com.[Sources: The Engineer, Reuters]