FRANKFURT German engineering group Siemens has run a successful test of power generation gas turbine blades produced wholly by metal-based 3D printing by UK-based Materials Solutions, which it bought last year.
Siemens said on Monday it was the first to test such blades under full-load engine conditions at 13,000 revolutions per minutes and temperatures above 1,250 Celsius (2,282 Fahrenheit). It called the test a "breakthrough".
3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, involves making a three-dimensional object by adding ultra-thin layers of material one by one, following a digital design, in contrast to conventional manufacturing, where excess material is cut away.
"This is a breakthrough success for the use of additive manufacturing in the power generation field, which is one of the most challenging applications for this technology," Willi Meixner, head of Siemens' Power and Gas division, said.
Siemens' U.S. rival General Electric bought two 3D printing firms last year for over $1 billion and introduced its first 3D-printed aircraft engine component into service last July.
"Technology is moving rapidly. All vendors across the supply chain need to be on their toes," capital goods analyst James Stettler of Barclays said.
A Siemens spokesman could not estimate how long it would take for 3D-printed gas turbine blades to go into commercial production but said the technology reduced the design-to-testing time to two months from two years.
The blades in the Siemens test were made from a powder of high-performing polycrystalline nickel superalloy. The 3D technology made possible a new design with improved internal cooling geometry.
Prices for gas-fired power generation turbines are under extreme pressure, with Siemens saying last week new projects were being deferred and it had to fight for every order.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Greg Mahlich)