3D printing, a viable new option for making nuclear components

Russia’s nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, is in advanced stages of implementing a plan to develop advanced metal additive manufacturing technology by producing 3D printed parts for the country’s nuclear industry.

Written by Anil Sasi | Moscow | Published:June 20, 2017 1:47 am

For the emerging 3D printing technology, the nuclear sector heralds a new frontier. The advances in metal 3D printing are expected to enable the technology, also described as ‘additive manufacturing’, to be leveraged as a viable option for producing components such as replacement parts for nuclear facilities — a stiff challenge considering the stringent safety and reliability requirements in the sector.

Russia’s nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, is in advanced stages of implementing a plan to develop advanced metal additive manufacturing technology by producing 3D printed parts for the country’s nuclear industry. The production of components will be done on Rosatom’s industrial metal 3D printer, the first-ever developed by a Russian firm, officials indicated at a roundtable discussion at the Atomexpo 2017 forum here. According to Alexey Dub, first deputy director general of Moscow-based research firm JSC Science and Innovations: “Printing different objects with a 3D printer using layer-by-layer build-up is the so-called additive technology, which is being developed at Rosatom at an industrial level. Additive technologies make the production of complex-shape and critical parts cheaper, increase the quality characteristics of products and company competitiveness…” The printer uses the method of layer-by-layer selective laser melting, with metallic powders based on iron, titanium, aluminum, nickel, cobalt and others expected to be used as raw materials.

The Russians are part of a growing global trend. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has indicated that it would lead a $2-million research project to use 3D printing to manufacture replacement parts for nuclear plants to reduce delivery lead times and costs. The French 3D design software provider Dassault Systemes and engineering company Assystem have also launched a collaboration to apply 3D simulation and data technology to enhance project efficiency for operational nuclear plants while Germany’s Siemens, in March this year, set a milestone with the first successful commercial installation of a 3D-printed part in Slovenia.

Rosatom has indicated that the company will focus on ensuring the reliability and safety of their 3D printed components, making sure that they can withstand irradiation by neutron fluxes. “Experimentation and testing” has been wrapped up successfully.

On March 9, Siemens had announced 3D printing integration into its digital services portfolio, with the German firm using the technology to produce a replacement part for the Krsko plant in Slovenia in the form of a metallic, 108-mm diameter impeller for a fire protection pump that is in constant rotating operation. The original impeller was in operation since the plant was commissioned in 1981; its original manufacturer is no longer in business. This technology essentially enables older plants to continue operating and even extending their full life expectancy.

3D printing of metal products reduces dramatically production waste and increases production reliability, according to Alexey Borovkov, vice-rector of advanced projects of Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. The method is more profitable than conventional production ones also because of the time spent on R&D.

Interestingly, Boeing uses 3D printing for annually producing over 22,000 parts of 300 descriptions for military and civil aircraft while General Electric has indicated that in ten years time, nearly half the parts that go into complex engineered structures such as power plants will be made using 3D printing.

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