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Industry 4.0 — How additive manufacturing will change the power industry

Additive manufacturing will have a bright future. The expected growth in market volume for additive manufacturing applications should see an annual increase of ca. 40% to $35.6 billion US in 2024, according to Wohler Associates. This development is driven by many positive characteristics: unprecedented design flexibility, manufacturing on demand and “lot size 1” capability. Add to that list more sustainable manufacturing processes reducing waste and keeping the use of valuable resources to a minimum.

Progress

The industrialization of additive manufacturing is progressing. And it’s fostered by the advancement of platforms and solutions managing the manufacturing process for owned and third-party printing capacities in an integrated ecosystem. The adherence to quality standards is achieved by employing data analytics-based monitoring systems.

Therefore, the prerequisites are met to employ additive manufacturing in more and more industries, e.g., the power industry and its customer, the power generation industry.

Steam and gas turbines

For the power industry, additive manufacturing will unlock new opportunities. Siemens, for example, produced the first 3D-printed metal replacement part for an industrial steam turbine back in 2018. With that comes a potential 40% decline in lead times compared to conventional manufacturing methods. The industry is making further progress since 3D printing will be extended to the manufacturing of turbine vane extensions, burner nozzles or radial impellers in gas turbine. First tests have already been executed.

Furthermore, additive manufacturing is changing the thinking concerning standard components such as gas turbine blades or driving new gas turbine burner concepts. For example, lattice structures only achievable by the application of additive manufacturing are optimized for mixing natural gas and hydrogen. In addition, 3D-printed components such as fuel nozzles can push the efficiency of a gas turbine above 60%.

Solar panels

MIT claims that efficiency gains (plus 20%) can also be attributed to 3D printed solar panels. Compared to conventionally manufactured panels they are also thinner, which will reduce manufacturing costs by up to 50% and reduce the necessary transportation capacity and cost. In Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization used additive manufacturing to produce rolls of solar cells that can be applied to surfaces of different kinds, such as windows or buildings, and work as effective solar panels.

Wind turbines

In the wind power industry, additive manufacturing will be used to produce turbine blade molds that are mostly handmade today. Onsite production of molds up to 15 meters long seems a feasible option since installation of 3D printers and connectivity are problems no longer. This would reduce transport complexity significantly and decrease the overall lead time.

Parts production

The power generation and distribution industry will also benefit from additive manufacturing. Instead of storing costly spare parts, they can produce spare parts on demand and where needed, e.g., in the power plant.

This implies a change in the spare parts business as we know it. The OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) will sell blueprints of their parts instead of manufacturing them in their factories. It could be a profitable model for them, as spare parts today complicate production processes by competing with new parts for manufacturing resources.

The power generation and distribution industry will also benefit from additive manufacturing. Instead of storing costly spare parts, they can produce spare parts on demand and where needed, e.g., in the power plant. This implies a change in the spare parts business as we know it.

Spare-parts printing onsite can also help to overcome shortages of discontinued parts since some of the assets employed are old with spare parts delivery not assured. In essence, additive-manufactured spare parts will reduce the downtime of assets and contribute to a reliable energy supply.

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About Stefan Zimmermann
Global Head of Incubator Portfolio Industry Manufacturing
Stefan Zimmermann is responsible for the innovation and portfolio development in Industry 4.0 at Global Atos B&PS. He aims at helping industrial companies to identify business opportunities enabled by Industry 4.0 during their digital transformation process, embracing the Industry 4.0 framework. He’s got a very strong industrial background, having worked for companies like Siemens (>10 years) and Rheinmetall Group and also comprehensive consulting skills gained when working for Roland Berger & Partner.

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