As additive manufacturing continues to make its way into real-world applications throughout a variety of industry sectors, major multinational corporations are increasingly adopting and developing expertise in the technology. Industrial 3D printing offers a variety of benefits driving the future of manufacturing, including lightweighting, part reduction, rapid iteration, optimized design parameters, application-specific designs, and a lowering of materials costs and production time. One high-profile global player that has built up and is now leveraging its expertise in additive manufacturing is Siemens.
The company, headquartered in Germany, has been working with 3D printing in its operations for some time now, integrating the technology across a variety of its businesses and developing significant familiarity with the disruptive manufacturing process. I appreciated the recent opportunity to speak with Markus Seibold, VP Additive Manufacturing, Siemens Power and Gas.
In an exclusive two-part interview, Seibold shares Siemens’ strategic approach to additive manufacturing; this first part will focus on the company as a user of additive manufacturing specifically in power generation, while in part two we will examine Siemens’ strategic approach to the market as a service provider leveraging user expertise.
Seibold works in Siemens’ energy divisions and he notes that use of the technology is coming into use to meet the company’s objective to be perceived in the industry “as a leading OEM in terms of the latest technology and best-performing products — and of course additive manufacturing is one of those.” The company’s use of additive manufacturing in the creation of gas turbine blades has drawn significant attention as a proof-point for the technology as being viable in demanding end-use applications, receiving deserved recognition for the achievement. In addition to the turbine blades, other components have been qualified and released for serial production via additive manufacturing, as Siemens showcases validity in this application through 13 components.
“As we speak, we have more than two handful of additive gas turbine components qualified and released for serial production. If we take our accumulated experience of additive components on Siemens gas turbines, we have more than 100,000 hours of additive manufactured component experience on Siemens gas turbines. It’s not test parts, it’s real: 100,000 operating hours of additive components. This gives us tremendous confidence in ensuring quality and consistency,” Seibold told me.
“The message behind this is that we are in serial production, we are ramping up. We trust our technology based on the 100,000 hours so much that we now believe we can leverage that experience and bring it to other industries.”
Looking to the blades — 3D printed at Siemens’ facility in Finspong, Sweden and at Materials Solutions, which Siemens recently acquired following an earlier strategic investment — these components were validated to conditions including temperatures beyond 1,250°C and performance at 13,000 revolutions per minute. These blades “push the limits” of what has been expected of additive manufacturing, Seibold said, and evidence an area of technological leadership for Siemens. Additional highlights in terms of 3D printed components are a burner that Siemens is currently commercializing and ramping up. The burner takes advantage of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), combining a previously twelve-part assembly into one additive part.
“It has enhanced functionality and can also burn hydrogen fuels, with more operational flexibility at lower emissions. This is only possible because of using additive for this design,” Seibold told me.
“This is one of the examples where we have a design for an additive-only part; it’s the only way to manufacture it, really pushing the limits, and we can get more functionality and lower emissions. It is currently being serialized and ramped up in our facility in Finspong.”
A third high-profile component he noted is a more recent design, announced last year for the new 9000HL gas turbine portfolio, which is “one of the biggest gas turbine classes out there.” The first of these engines is due for delivery in summer 2019, to be delivered to Duke Energies in the Carolinas. Seibold noted as one of the key enablers to the combustion system serial manufacturing of additive components. While Duke is slated to be the first customer, subsequent customers will be signing on as well, as additive components prove their value “in Siemens’ flagship highest efficiency engine.”
Beyond these three key components created via additive manufacturing, Siemens is further building on its commitment to the technology through investing into its future. In March, the company announced its investment into the UK-based expansion of Materials Solutions. Significant to the tune of €30 million over the next few years, Siemens plans to, Seibold said, “move into not only a bigger, but really state-of-the-art facility to boost the internal as well as external business growth we hopefully will be seeing.”
Siemens Oil & Gas has additional plans across its global strategies for additional investments and commitments that are not yet ready to be publicly announced, but are sure to drum up additional significant notice. With more than 40 3D printers in commercial operation and plans “to significantly expand our fleet of printers” for use for both Siemens and external customers, the next two-three years will see definite activity in terms of scaling up processes, offerings, and in-house expertise.
Next steps for Siemens include what the company views as a natural extension of its expertise into external service offerings, with a deeper examination to come in part two of this interview. As a preliminary overview, Seibold noted that the company already has a good number of employees in place now focusing solely on DfAM, as that area becomes a real topic of interest. Taking advantage of the benefits of additive manufacturing through unique geometries and optimized part topologies and assemblies, DfAM allows for a full rethinking of component design. Siemens’ dedicated team undergoes specialized training and are often co-located with manufacturing engineers to see better integration throughout the structure of the company.
The training process is run through a three-tier process, with each subsequent step indicative of a deeper dive into DfAM.
- Tier One: Starter training developed for any employee working in manufacturing, engineering, and design, focused on “getting as many people as possible excited for the technology, where it is today.”
- Tier Two: A full week of intensive training with a two-day session in training on software tools and DfAM methods, then applying these lessons in a design engineering team to specific components.
- Tier Three: These advanced trainees then work side-by-side with existing DfAM teams to apply what they’ve learned in their courses.
The process encompasses software, tool, principle, and technological training led by the core experienced DfAM team.
In terms of program goals, Seibold cleverly compared the intention to that of a “good virus” that he hopes will catch. By creating an “infection” of enthusiasm, the “good virus” starts with additive manufacturing in a center that spreads “by getting more people in touch with it.”
“For a good virus to be effective, you need a host and as many people as possible to be in touch with the host, to get infected, then go back to their areas to continue spreading,” he said.
For additive manufacturing to thus “go viral,” a focus on design must be at the nucleus.
“Most important to unleashing the potential is how to design for the process,” Seibold emphasized, noting as well the importance of process and materials.
“DfAM engineers work very closely at integrating our core component team so we bring the best possible design solutions to our core teams. When we talk about services, on the one hand there’s a lot of people out there who can print; there are fewer out there today who can deliver functional parts for material requirements, and even less people than the fewer people who have design expertise and can help people in developing parts, really working with the design teams of the customers, also in terms of education design teams and potential future customers on the benefits of the technology.”
Siemens is “investing heavily” in terms of training and focus on design for additive. The side-by-side work of the dedicated team and core component teams creates what Seibold describes as a “huge asset for internal as well as external work.”
With much more to come from Siemens, part two of this interview focuses on the company’s next steps and spreading external influence.
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