GE to 3D Print Replacement Parts for Nuclear Power Plants
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on June 27, 2016 |

Along with Airbus, GE is one of the largest manufacturers paving the way for the use of 3D printing in mainstream manufacturing. This year alone, the conglomerate has opened three different advanced manufacturing facilities featuring 3D printing technology, complementing the two it had launched in 2015. After already applying its 3D printing expertise with GE Oil & Gas, the multinational will have an opportunity to test its chops with nuclear power through a recent project from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The DOE has chosen GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) to head up a $2 million project dedicated to 3D printing parts for the nuclear industry. The GE Power Advanced Manufacturing Works facility in Greenville, S.C., will 3D print sample replacement parts for nuclear power plants before shipping them to the Idaho National Laboratory for irradiation in the lab’s Advanced Test Reactor.  

GEH will then analyze the parts, matching them against unirradiated material. Using these results, the project partners will be able to integrate 3D-printed components into a number of areas within the nuclear power industry, including fuels, services and new applications. 

Highly specialized areas such as nuclear power plant equipment are ideal for 3D printing, as parts made for these facilities may not be mass produced with traditional methods. When it comes to replacement parts then, nuclear power plants could potentially receive these custom components quickly and at a reduced cost. 

Along with this initiative, GEH is participating in other new programs associated with nuclear energy. The DOE recently announced an $80 million investment in nuclear energy, which will see GEH given access to irradiation and post-irradiation examination services. GEH is also working with the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to engineer stainless steel with greater resistance to irradiation and stress corrosion cracking.

If there’s anything that can benefit from technological advances, it may be nuclear power plants. As the global economy makes the shift from potentially dangerous sources of energy, such as fossil fuels and nuclear power, to more sustainable sources, like wind and solar, it may be necessary to limit the dangers of these technologies as much as possible in the interim. During this transition period, advanced manufacturing methods like 3D printing could result in overall safer and more efficient nuclear power plants. 

That isn’t to say that GE is only focused on power from oil, gas and nuclear energy. The conglomerate also has a division dedicated to sustainable forms of energy. With 3D printing making its way into GE Oil & Gas and GEH, it may be possible that the technology will also advance the GE Renewable Energy division, as well.

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