German industrial Siemens announced Thursday that it had a installed a 108 mm (4.25 inch) in diameter impeller in a fire protection pump at the Krsko Nuclear Power Plant in Slovenia in January that was made using 3-D technology. This marks the first time in history that a 3-D printed part had been successfully put to work in a nuclear power plant, an event that has potentially huge significance for the industry.
The part is one that is in constant motion and it has performed reliably in service and done extremely well in testing labs. The significance lies in the fact that the part replaced an impeller that had been operating at the plant since it was first commissioned in 1981 and was no longer available.
Since 1981, the parts manufacturer has gone out of business. Hence, the critically needed part represents the dawn of new possibilities for impossible to find parts for nuclear power plants and for other critical industrial situations where a replacement part does not exist.
A nuclear power plant in a worst case scenario could shut down for want of a critical component in which the original manufacturer is out of business or has re-tooled their equipment and cannot reproduce a replacement. Plants facing shut down for want of an obscure part now have hope that a replacement can be manufactured even without the original engineering specifications at hand.
“The better-than-expected performance of this 3-D printed part gave us confidence that we can reach the full life expectancy of our asset,” said Vinko Planinc, the head of maintenance at Krsko, pointedly.
Ther 3-D impeller has been running since January at Krsko. Siemens had to “reverse-engineer” the component to come up with a digital prototype. A team at Siemen's Additive Manufacturing facility in Finspang, Sweden, then used a 3-D printer to produce the new part.
Laboratory tests have even proved that the 3-D printed part is of a superior quality to the original. The part was tested by an independent laboratory, Siemens said.
Siemens has been developing its Additive Manufacturing facility since 2009. The company notes that replacement parts with the new process cuts lead time in half and development time by 75 percent.
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