German manufacturing and electronics company Siemens has engine tested its new 3D printed gas turbine blades. The 3D printed components were tested at 13,000 revolutions per minute and temperatures beyond 1,250 degrees Celsius.
In what could be an important milestone in industrial additive manufacturing, tech giant Siemens has just announced the successful testing of a new turbine blade design. The blades incorporate an innovative new internal cooling geometry designed using advanced CAD software and fabricated using 3D printing technology. The 3D printed blades were made by Materials Solutions, a British additive manufacturing company based in Worcester that was acquired by Siemens in August 2016.
When Siemens acquired its 85% stake in Materials Solutions, Willi Meixner, CEO of Siemens Power and Gas Division, praised the UK company’s ability “to turn models into high quality components in record time.” Just half a year later, and Siemens has already leveraged the capabilities of the AM specialist to create high-quality turbine blades. Testing of the blades was carried out 120 miles northeast of Materials Solutions HQ, at Siemens’ industrial gas turbine factory in Lincoln, UK.
The successful tests required contributions from a diverse international project team that included Siemens engineers in Finspång, Lincoln, and Berlin, as well as additive manufacturing experts from Materials Solutions. Over a period of 18 months, the team was able to carry out the entire development process, from component design and AM material development to developing new simulation techniques and enforcing quality controls.
The 3D printed turbine blades were made from of a polycrystalline nickel superalloy powder, a material which enables the blades to endure high pressure, extreme temperatures, and the rotational forces of the turbine’s high-speed operation. “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,” said Meixner. “Additive manufacturing is one of our main pillars in our digitalization strategy.”
Once completed, the 3D printed blades were installed in a Siemens SGT-400 industrial gas turbine with a capacity of 13 megawatts (MW). Each 3D printed turbine blade was subjected to speeds of more than 1,600 km/h (994 mph), and was required to carry a weight of 11 tons (equivalent to a fully loaded London bus). The blades were surrounded by gas at 1,250 °C and cooled by air at over 400 °C. Thanks to the improved cooling features made possible by additive manufacturing, the 3D printed blades were up to the challenge in every respect.
While additive manufacturing enabled Siemens and Materials Solutions to create the intricate internal cooling system for the turbine blades, it also enabled them to produce each blade in a very short space of time. “This exciting technology is changing the way we manufacture by reducing the lead time for prototype development up to 90 percent,” said Meixner. Because of this efficiency and the success of the testing, Siemens plans to continue utilizing Materials Solutions’ 3D printing facilities and expertise to improve its turbine systems. “With our combined know-how in 3D printing, we will continue to drive the technological development and application in this field,” Meixner added.