With the oil and gas industry under pressure, manufacturers are turning to additive manufacturing for reduced costs and shorter timeframes. Gas turbines sit at the heart of power plant operations. A mixture of fuels, such as diesel, kerosene and liquid petroleum gas, is heated at high temperatures until a rush of hot air is produced, forcing a turbine’s blades to spin and generate electricity.
It’s a relatively simple method, which dates all the way back to the late 1930s when the first electricity-generating gas turbine was designed, built and put into commercial operation in Switzerland. Today, however, the gas turbine market is under pressure.
Towards the end of 2011, Siemens – one of the market leaders in terms of gas turbine units sold, according to McCoy Power Reports data – announced that demand for industrial turbines of 10OMW or larger had fallen to nearly 25% of the global production capacity – from 4,000 units to 1,100.
The current production of gas turbines is not conducive to this end, so, to keep pace and not lag behind any further, turbine manufacturers are under pressure to rethink designs and speed up production processes. Key to this could be additive manufacturing (AM) and the technologies that can be used to build 3D objects from computer-generated files, such as CAD using layers or material.
Unlike conventional manufacturing, where excess material is cut away, am deposits powder through a nozzle and a laser is then used to melt the layers of powder into the desired shapes in theory, this means the production process is more precise and there is less likely to be a waste stream.
Siemens has been exploring this laser-cutting method over the past 15 months to print gas turbine blades that are suitable for use oil and gas. In February of this year, the manufacturer announced that it had successfully completed its first full-load engine test, subjecting the printed turbine blades to conditions of 13,000 revolutions per minute and temperatures to 1,250 degrees.
To capitalise on this demand, manufacturers of turbines and other parts are going to need to be sure they are ready to adopt 3D printing technology, so that they can react to market opportunities. This also means they need to be willing to invest in research and development to improve the speed of their Production processes and product cycles.