A New Dawn for Impellers: Unleashing the Power of Metal AM in the Energy Sector

October 9, 2023

The energy industry, in its perennial quest for efficiency and innovation, is undergoing a paradigm shift. At the forefront of this transformation is the integration of metal additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing).

With the potential to revolutionize how energy operators sustain their operations, metal 3D printing offers an on-demand solution to part manufacturing challenges, especially when it comes to the indispensable component: impellers.

Metal AM and Impellers: A Perfect Match

Centrifugal pumps, the workhorses of the energy sector, rely heavily on impellers to transfer energy from the motor driving the pump to the fluid being pumped. Traditional manufacturing techniques, while reliable, can be expensive and time consuming. With metal AM, the design and production of impellers becomes a streamlined process combining multiple parts into a single assembly and reduces the need for molds and tooling.

Velo3D’s fully integrated metal additive manufacturing solution can intricately manufacture impellers tailor-suited for energy operators’ centrifugal pumps. With geometric capabilities down to virtually zero degrees, the low angles of shrouded impellers can be printed flat to the build plate resulting in impellers that balance and pass spin tests in the 10s of thousands of RPMs.  Furthermore, the surface finish on impellers, as printed on Velo3D’s Sapphire printers, leads the industry in terms of low angle capability. Post processing of the internal surfaces can be accomplished with abrasive flow machining if tighter tolerances are needed.

Furthermore, the materials available for printing open the market for applications from cryogenic pumping up to supercritical CO2.  Aluminum, Titanium, Nickel based super alloys, and stainless steels are all now available.  And these solutions translate to large-format (up to 600mm diameter) impellers, too. One such example is Rotating Machinery Services’ (RMS) a groundbreaking 483 mm Inconel® 718 shrouded impeller, designed with a 2-degree shroud.

Bridging Gaps with OEMs and Suppliers

Gone are the days when delays in obtaining specialized parts could cripple operations. OEMs and suppliers, armed with metal AM technology, have the capability to be the agile response team the energy industry needs. Instead of waiting months for traditionally manufactured components, operators can now receive parts in a matter of weeks, if not sooner.

Furthermore, the ability to print-on-demand means that inventory costs drop drastically, with less need for physical stockpiles. This shift in manufacturing dynamics frees up working capital and reduces the need to manage large warehouses ensuring energy companies can focus on energy generation and distribution.

Cost-Efficiency with AM Impellers

Let’s delve a bit deeper using a real-world example. Consider a medium-critical seven-stage centrifugal pump. Traditionally, replacing or manufacturing an impeller for such a pump could be a costly affair, not just in terms of money but also downtime. A typical risk reduction technique is to locally stockpile spare impellers to reduce the risk of an inoperable entire assemble.

Simplified illustration of a seven-stage centrifugal pump. *Image courtesy of Nature.com

However, with metal AM technology, and the ability to print a replacement quickly, companies can mitigate downtime risk through rapidly producing spares from a digital file, reducing spares and realizing savings in the hundreds of thousands. The rapid turnaround time, combined with the precision of 3D printing, ensures that the pumps face minimal operational interruptions, translating to substantial cost savings in the long run.

Velo3D’s Golden Print File: The Future of On-Demand Manufacturing

What if companies could have a digital catalog of AM impellers ready to be manufactured as and when required? Velo3D’s Golden Print file is the answer. It allows companies to maintain a digital portfolio of impellers instead of a physical one. The Golden Print File is a locked, secure, digital file containing all the instructions needed to print a replacement impeller with the same geometric accuracy and material properties. This not only optimizes manufacturing but also ensures consistency across multiple prints. By sending this file to a Velo3D enabled site, companies can print closer to the final pump destination and leveraging a global, redundant supply chain.

The reality is industries worldwide, characterized by intricate logistics and parts supply chains, require flexible manufacturing solutions tailored to their demands. Traditional methods often result in extended lead times, and conventional AM systems face challenges in large-scale, consistent production.

However, Velo3D’s fully integrated metal AM solution stands out, addressing these hurdles by offering large-scale printing with unmatched quality and consistency.

As the energy industry evolves, the integration of metal AM, especially for components like impellers, and other critical turbomachinery, is not just a choice but a necessity.

Velo3D, with its advanced solutions and commitment to innovation, stands ready to support this transformative journey by providing a solution that increases supply chain efficiency, ensures part quality, and provides a path to production.

Interested in learning more about Velo3D metal AM? Get in touch with our team of experts today.

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About the Author

Amir Iliaifar

Director of Content

Amir Iliaifar is the Director of Content at Velo3D where he oversees the production and distribution of Velo3D’s global digital content marketing initiatives. Prior to joining the company, Amir worked for a leading professional drone manufacturer, several SaaS companies, and as an automotive tech journalist. He holds a Master of Arts in Digital Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.