Additive manufacturing is a manufacturing method which involves building parts layer by layer, to turn 3D model data into objects. It is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, which involves removing sections of material either by cutting it away or by machining it.
Today, such is the potential of additive manufacturing that it is changing production processes. A leading 3D printing insights report indicates that the 3D printing industry is expected to grow by over 31% annually until 2020 and bring in more than $21 billion in revenue.
Additive manufacturing technologies have found use in a number of industrial sectors, such as aerospace, medical, transportation, consumer products and energy. In the energy sector, several exciting opportunities exist for the technology.
Additive manufacturing in the energy sector
The ability to develop mission-critical components that can withstand extreme conditions spells success for additive manufacturing in the energy sector. It helps produce tailored, lightweight, efficient and on-demand components that not only deliver diverse functions but are also environmentally friendly.
Additive manufacturing has found use in some key applications in gas, oil and energy industries. It is being used to create components, such as turbine nozzles, rotors, stators, flow meter parts, pressure gauge pieces, control valves and pumps. Besides this, it has also found use in fluid/water flow analysis, mud motor models and many other such applications.
Not only has additive manufacturing found new and innovative uses in component manufacturing for the energy sector, but it also offers the benefit of low costs in internal parts production. This is what is attracting major companies and disrupting conventional supply chains, thereby challenging the position of parts suppliers. Additive manufacturing has helped bring out affordable business models that allow greater customer participation in product manufacturing.
This technology is on its way to becoming indispensable for energy industries, what with the speeding up of the production process, employing newer and lighter materials, obviating the need for warehousing of components, since 3D printers can be located at the client’s site, and cutting the product costs almost by 40 percent.
Main growth opportunities for additive manufacturing in the energy sector
Significant opportunities are being created in the energy sector for additive manufacturing, resulting from an increasing need for customization, reduced component costs, and in manufacturing parts that are no longer produced by original equipment manufacturers.
Let’s see how the energy sector will benefit from additive manufacturing:
● Lower the costs by acquiring local 3D printing firms to cut down on time and help the products reach the market quickly.
● Shift from global supply chains to local supply chains that are smaller and faster.
● Help in greater market access by partnering with local industrial giants, as also reducing investment in local supply chains.
● This technology can also be used in redesigning factory floors for storing and maintaining 3D printing materials.
● Last, but not the least, by forming an alliance with government agencies, additive manufacturing can obtain initial funding to create high-technology products.
Use of additive manufacturing in the wind energy sector
Additive manufacturing is considered a ‘game-changing’ technology for the wind and renewable power industries. It is extensively used in the wind energy sector since it offers a range of advantages for the wind industry. It speeds up component development by up to 75 percent, reduces material resources by up to 65 percent and decreases gas emissions by up to 30 percent.
Following are the advantages of additive manufacturing in the wind industry:
● Wind turbines: Wind turbines, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, are fueling an exponential growth with the help of offshore wind turbines market. Additive manufacturing displays potential to enable in situ manufacture of turbine components. By using local resources, it cuts down on shipping, haulage and related expenses.
● Blade molds: Using additive manufacturing, the Advanced Manufacturing Office of the US Department of Energy has begun printing molds for blades.
● Small, off-grid turbines: Makes possible production of small-scale 3D printed wind turbines in locations with limited access to electricity.
There is no stopping additive manufacturing since it has become the primary focus area of the US Department of Energy. This has enabled the Advanced Manufacturing Office, in partnership with private players, to print everything from large objects, such as houses and sports cars to small nozzles and other minor components.