We have stated repeatedly that 3D printing is the option to go with owing to its myriad of advantages. A number of industries are utilizing 3D printing to make the process cost-effective and speedy. US President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the new Clean Power Plan on 3rd August, 2015 to fight the climate change. The basic aim of this initiative is to diminish the dependency on carbon heavy energy sources such as petroleum and coal while facilitating in a shift towards renewable and greener alternatives such as solar and wind. The initiative was timed impeccably since the wind-based electricity is already doing great and is already powering over 17.5 million homes in US. It costs 2.35 cents per kilowatt hour and this renders even more economical than the average cost of wholesale electricity in majority of the country. How does 3D printing fit into this? Well, we’re going to get to that below.
Considering all this, the US Department of Energy has recently stated its plan of investing quite heavily into 3D printing technology in order to bring down the cost of wind-turbine blade production by another 5%. Jose Zayas is the Director of Wind and Water-Power Technologies for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and explains that this proposed 5% reduction in cost when spanned over 13,000 additional blades annually results in a saving of $75 million. All thanks to 3D printing.
The agency has already committed a total of $1 million while aiming at the construction of a demonstration blade that is to be manufactured by making use of 3D printing technology by the mid of 2016. The company isn’t going for 3D printing some small parts but rather shall be 3D printing the whole of blade. That’s amazing and goes to show just how far 3D printing has actually come from the days when it started out. David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy said, “In the past, 3D printing was very interesting, but it was so slow. It could make parts that fit in the palm of your hand. We’re moving from parts to hold in your hands to 40-foot parts.”
The partners in this project are not new to 3D printing. One of them, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest US Department of Energy Science and Energy laboratory and has already 3D printed a car and a home that run on solar power or natural gas. Another partner is the Sandia National Laboratories that has been providing with technological and scientific solutions for helping out with national security issues for over 60 years now. This partner is also known for development of Laser Engineered Net Shaping. LNS is the process where the 3D printing of complex metal parts is carried out using powders and Robocasting – 3D process that creates parts by making use of a ceramic slurry via needle that is pressurized.
The fundamental idea of the project is to accomplish cost-saving by making use of 3D printing to improve the current methods of production. As of now, blades are created using molds that cost more than $10 million and are designed for the creation of 1,000 blades. The issue? Wind energy technology is growing so rapidly that blades are out of date even before the lifespan of the mold is over thus resulting in a spike in the production cost.
Jose Zayas said that, “ “the molds themselves are a combination of composites and steel. When you’re going to make something out of a steel, you’re going to start with a big block of steel, and machine it to what you want that product to be. Additive manufacturing is the inverse of it: instead of removing, you’re adding. It starts from the bottom-up, shaped to the product that you want.”
Let’s whether the 3D printing process will be opted for by other companies as well in the future but one thing is for sure; the proposed cost savings that can be gained via incorporating 3D printing is a very encouraging news for an industry that is growing and becoming more efficient. Such initiatives will help in transitioning from fossil fuels to greener alternatives not only based on environmental issues but also because of economic incentives. Once again folks, the geeky technology of 3D printing is to be praised for such a spectacular feat.