GE & Co to Develop World’s Largest 3D Printer for Offshore Wind Application

GE, Fraunhofer IGCV, and voxeljet AG have entered into a research partnership to develop the world’s largest 3D printer for offshore wind applications in order to streamline the production of key components of GE’s Haliade-X offshore wind turbine.

The partners expect to launch the project during the third quarter of 2021 with initial printer trials starting during the first quarter of 2022.

The project involves the development of a new, large format Advance Casting Cell (ACC) 3D printer capable of producing sand molds for casting the highly complex metal parts of different shapes and sizes that make up an offshore wind turbine nacelle.

The modular 3D printing process, which is based on voxeljet’s core “Binder-Jetting” technology, can be configured to print molds for castings of up to 9.5 metres in diameter and of 60-plus tonnes in weight, reducing the time it takes to produce this pattern and mold from ten weeks or more to just two weeks.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV is responsible for casting and materials technology issues as well as digital process monitoring.

“The 3D printed molds will bring many benefits including improved casting quality through improved surface finish, part accuracy and consistency. 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”, said Juan Pablo Cilia, Senior Additive Design Engineer at GE Renewable Energy.

The use of the 3D printer, whose development is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, is also expected to reduce the product’s carbon footprint by eliminating the need to transport the large parts from a central manufacturing location.

The team also expects to significantly improve the environmental footprint of processes involved in producing the Haliade-X type wind turbines.

“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. 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”, said Prof. Dr. Wolfram Volk, director of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Institute.

GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X offshore wind turbine has been selected for several projects, including what will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm, Dogger Bank Wind Farm in the UK. There, Haliade-X 13 MW will power the two first phases of the project, while the Haliade-X 14 MW has been selected as the preferred technology for the third and last installment of the 3.6 GW offshore wind farm.

Back in December 2020, the company started works on expanding its wind turbine nacelle factory in Montoir-de-Bretagne in France to accommodate the assembly of nacelles for the Haliade-X offshore wind turbines.

Photo: GE Renewable Energy