In early 2017, Siemens achieved a world first: the first gas turbine blades ever produced using 3D printing successfully passed performance testing under full-load conditions.

The blades can survive temperatures above 1,250 Celsius and pressures similar to the weight of a double-decker bus. They normally take a year-and-a-half to make; with 3D technology, it takes six to eight weeks. Put simply, this breakthrough opens the way to develop high pressure components for power generators and other industries, such as aeronautics.

Listen below to hear Phil Hatherley talk about what the breakthrough means for manufacturing — or scroll down to read the highlights.

On making history

“The turbine blade is very much a visionary target for 3D printing, so I was very humbled to collect a prize for a world first. It is technology that has to operate in one of the harshest environments, in terms of speed and operating conditions.”

On cutting down the usual design time by a third

“A turbine blade (see below) traditionally requires months of work and a lot of money to build tooling prior to actually making the part. By using 3D printing technology, we turned that 18 months into six to eight weeks, getting rid of the requirement for very expensive tooling.”

On solving small problems before solving big ones

“It was just one small component that we printed, but it sits within the hottest section of the turbine, meaning it can reach temperatures beyond the melting point of the metal. Basically, it’s like an explosion, because when you apply heat, hot air escapes through the back of the turbine as it turns the blades. We had to use really complex cooling internal cooling geometries to stop it from overheating.”

At Siemens, Phil Hatherley is the General Manager of Materials Solutions and is responsible for a dedicated team of experts tasked with turning complex engineering ideas into reality using Additive Manufacturing, or 3D printing, of metals. He has worked for Siemens for 10 years with assignments in Germany, USA and UK. He lives in the UK and is married with two children. Find out more about working with Siemens.

Phil is a Future Maker — one of the 372,000 talented people working with us to shape the future.

Podcast: Gemma Milne
 Words: Vanessa Keys
 Illustration: Harry Tennant