Siemens has achieved a manufacturing breakthrough with the successful testing of its first gas turbine blades fully created on a 3D printer.
The test consisted of full load validated engine tests using ‘additive manufactured’ turbine blades with a conventional blade design at full engine conditions. Components were tested at 13 000 rpm and at temperatures beyond 1250°C. In addition, Siemens tested a new blade design with a completely revised and improved internal cooling geometry manufactured using the AM technology.
The project team used blades manufactured at its 3D printing facility at Materials Solutions, its newly acquired company in Worcester, UK. Materials Solutions specialises in high performance parts for high temperature applications in turbomachinery where accuracy, surface finish and the materials quality is critical to ensuring operational performance. The tests were conducted at the Siemens testing facility in its industrial gas turbine factory in Lincoln, UK.
“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 Willi Meixner, CEO of the Siemens Power and Gas division. “Additive Manufacturing is one of our main pillars in our digitalisation strategy. The successful tests were the result of [a collaborative effort] with contributions from Siemens engineers in Finspång, Lincoln and Berlin together with experts from Materials Solutions. In 18 months they completed the entire chain from component design and AM material development to new methods for lifing simulations and quality controls. We will continue to drive the technological development and application in this field”.
The blades were installed in a 13MW SGT-400 industrial gas turbine. The AM turbine blades are made from a powder of high performing polycrystalline nickel superalloy, allowing them to endure high pressure, high temperatures and the rotational forces of the turbine’s high speed operation. At full load each of these turbine blades is travelling at over 1600 km/h, carrying 11 tons of load, surrounded by gas at 1250 °C and cooled by air at over 400 °C. The advanced blade design also tested in Lincoln includes improved cooling features that can increase overall efficiency of the gas turbines.
‘Additive manufacturing’ is a process that builds parts layer-by-layer from sliced CAD models to form solid objects. It especially provides benefits in rapid prototyping. “This exciting technology is changing the way we manufacture by reducing the lead time for prototype development up to 90 %,” said Meixner.
The successful test of the advanced blade design is the next step in realizing the full potential of AM. Siemens is developing gas turbine designs which are only possible with AM and extends its serial production for printed turbine equipment.
Siemens extensively uses AM technology for rapid prototyping and has already introduced serial production solutions for components in the gas turbine compressor and combustion system. In February 2016 Siemens opened a new production facility for 3D printed components in Finspång, Sweden. The first such component for a Siemens heavy-duty gas turbine has been in commercial operation since July 2016.