Repairing a Power Plant With 3D Printing

Photo Credit: Siemens

What would you trust to 3D printing? How about an integral nuclear power plant part? 

In 2017, Siemens AG received a request from the Krško nuclear power plant, located in Slovenia near its border with Croatia, for a replacement part to fit their fire protection pump, which was critical to the plant’s protection system. Normally, replacing a single part would not be an issue. However, the Krško plant, which is the only plant in Slovenia and which provides more than one-quarter of the country’s power plus 15 percent of Croatia’s, became operational in 1981 and had been producing commercial power since 1983; many of its systems were now obsolete and original manufacturers were long out of business. 

When no replacement for the necessary part could be located, Siemens had to consider other options. Traditional manufacturing for the single round disk would have meant a long search for the original 1970s part specifications, then an expensive and long casting and machining process. Instead, Siemens decided to reverse-engineer the part to create a ‘digital twin’ which could then be used as a blueprint to create a new replacement using additive manufacturing. This saved significant time and money. 

The new part is now installed and the plant is expected to be operational until it is decommissioned in 2043. And how is the new part performing? The Krško nuclear plant is one of the most highly rated European nuclear power plants in terms of safety, according to the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group. Vinko Planinc, head of Maintenance at the Krško plant, said “this 3D printed part gave us confidence that we can reach the full life expectancy from our asset.” 

Services like Shapeways that offer additive manufacturing are creating increasingly sophisticated parts like aircraft parts, drones, and car components, as well as designing and fabricating the molds for such parts that can then be produced by a traditional manufacturer. 

3D printing is moving into many manufacturing fields that have traditionally required regulatory oversight and third-party certification. It’s an exciting time when even the jet engines propelling us to and from destinations now rely on 3D printed parts, and our doctors may turn to 3D printing to heal us. Platforms like Shapeways offer high-tech industries the capability to prototype new solutions or to replicate old ones, with the manufacturing agility to integrate changes at a speed traditional manufacturers simply cannot match. One might almost say ‘the sky’s the limit’ on what 3D printing can achieve. But actually, it may be just a little beyond that.

Technology writer Marla Keene works for In her free time, Marla hikes with her dog Otis or spends time searching for old cameras to add to her ever-growing collection.

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