GE Renewable Energy is joining forces with researchers at Fraunhofer IGCV and printer company Voxeljet AG to manufacture the world’s largest 3D printer.
The printer will be used for the production of molds for creating large composite components for GE’s next generation Haliade-X offshore wind turbines. In particular, the engineers are looking to use this new process to produce the nacelles on the wind turbines.
The printer, dubbed the Advance Casting Cell (ACC) is a modular system based on Voxeljet’s own binder jetting technology, and is capable of printing molds for castings up to 9.5 meters in diameter and 60 metric tons (the same weight as the nacelles).
“The 3D printed molds will bring many benefits including improved casting quality through improved surface finish, part accuracy and consistency,” said Juan Pablo Cilia, Senior Additive Design Engineer at GE Renewable Energy.
“Furthermore, sand binder jet molds or additive molds provide cost savings by reducing machining time and other material costs due to optimized design. This unprecedented production technology will be a game changer for production efficiency allowing localized manufacturing in high cost countries, a key benefit for our customers looking to maximize the local economic development benefits of offshore wind.”
Traditionally this pattern and mold would take over ten weeks to produce. With the new large scale 3D printer, they say that the production time will be reduced to just two weeks.
The printers will be installed locally to where the turbines will eventually be installed. This will reduce transport costs and could reduce the product’s carbon footprint by eliminating the need to transport the large parts from a central manufacturing location.
“We aim to optimize the mold printing to avoid extremely costly misprints or even miscasts, to save on binder and activator, and to improve mechanical and thermal behavior during casting,” said Prof. Dr. Wolfram Volk, Director of The Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV.
“By developing a process that conserves resources as much as possible, we want to help to improve the environmental and cost balance in the manufacture of wind turbines.”
The institute is contributing their knowledge of casting and thermal management of casting processes to the collaboration.
The project has been funded in part by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The project is expected to launch later in 2021, with initial printer trials beginning early next year.