Additive Manufacturing and the Power Industry: how effective is this technology to support the industry?

News from the 3D printing industry | 27 March 2019

By 2025, the growth of additive manufacturing is expected to reach $20bn all over the world. With the power industry under pressure, manufacturers  have looked into additive manufacturing to find solutions to reduce various costs and shorten lead time.

In the power industry, additive manufacturing can be used in diverse ways, such as building prototypes and mainstream production. Mainstream production with 3D printing not only allows manufacturers simplify the entire production process but also improve operational efficiency. In fact, 3D Printing is a perfect technology to produce spare parts with complex geometrical shapes, shorten spare parts lead time, and reduce both raw material consumption and energy consumption.

In the solar power industry, the technology is still in its infancy. However, according to Power Technology, MIT researchers say that applications of additive manufacturing technology in solar panels “could reduce manufacturing cost by 50% with 20% in efficiency compare to traditional panels”.

3D Printing application in solar power industry: “In Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) used industrial 3D printers to print rolls of solar cells in the form of A3 sheets which can be used on the surfaces of windows and buildings and function as efficient solar panels. The scientists developed a photovoltaic ink to be used on the flexible plastic strips.”

Also, in the wind power industry, additive manufacturing could  be used to manufacture turbine components directly on-site for the unique needs of a location. In addition, this also helps them reduce transportation costs. Moreover, additive manufacturing is very useful for production of wind turbine spare parts of the old models. This is a significant advantage as it can be quite difficult to source spare parts of old models.

3D Printing application in wind power industry: “The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Wind Program and Advanced Manufacturing Office has partnered with public and private organisations to apply AM in the production of wind turbine blade moulds. Traditionally, blade design requires the creation of a plug, or a full-size representation of the final blade, which is then used to make the mould. This is one of the most time-consuming and labour-intensive processes in wind blade construction where 3D printing can save these critical resources.”

Additive Manufacturing is also a game-changer for conventional power generation.

In April 2018, Siemens produced the first 3D printed metal replacement parts for an industrial steam turbine. According to the company, it can reduce the production time of these components by 40%. In 2017, Siemens completed its first full-load engine tests for gas turbine blades, produced entirely using 3D Printing technology. The company is still developing 3D printing for turbine vanes, burner nozzles, and radial impellers.

Recently, there is an increase in number of electronic components that have become 3D-printable like batteries. Research groups all over the world are using additive manufacturing to create internal complex structure of batteries.

3D Printing application with batteries: “IBM and ETH Zurich researchers created the first liquid battery through 3D printing called the “redox flow” battery. The particular battery can produce energy and cool at the same time. The team used 3D printing to produce a micro-channel system for supplying the battery with electrolytes. This system minimizes the need for pumping power and eliminates internal high temperature.”

Additive Manufacturing has also its application in the nuclear power industry.

3D Printing application in nuclear power industry: “In February 2018, Russia’s state-owned nuclear power utility, Rosatom, established a company for the development of additive manufacturing technologies.  It has already developed a pre-production prototype of a Gen II 3D printer, the commercial production of which is scheduled for this year.”

To conclude, in the power industry, additive manufacturing in the renewable and conventional power sectors or batteries is not yet a game-changer. 3D Printing has the potential to provide a boost in the energy industry. However, it will take time to understand how 3D printing will have an impact on the power industry, in terms of high equipment standards.