Monday 6th January 2014


January 6, 2014

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Wind Watch

If January is a month filled with over-optimistic promises, then try this for size – Siemens has committed to the increased adoption of so-called 3D printing.

More specifically, the German manufacturing heavyweight will begin to make spare turbine parts and other key components within one of its power maintenance and generation service divisions.

The manufacturing shift will, in an instant, enable the ambitious firm to produce over 100 different individual parts – significantly reducing repair time down to as much of a tenth of standard servicing times.

However, before you start reaching for the phonebook, it’s worth noting that this time around the turbines in question aren’t related to wind energy but to gas.

That hasn’t stopped all number of individuals from sitting up and taking note, mind. And although 3D printing is still very much a technology in its infancy, it’s a concept that could in the longer-term present significant opportunities to individuals working in wind.

Indeed, with a growing demand to find increased efficiencies within the spare parts market, the concept of 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the way in which components are currently mass-produced, distributed and stored.

Moreover, by printing and producing parts where they are needed, it is a model that could significantly upend the existing status quo. No more lucrative courier deals. And a decreased reliance on the operations and maintenance teams?

Perhaps. However, as a recent report by Morgan Stanley has already shown, such technology is still currently viewed as a prototyping tool and its use within production has so far been few and far between.

This, combined with the high cost of metals, materials and the machines themselves means that even factoring in the traditional supply chain logistics, right now, the cost efficiencies aren’t quite there.

The machines themselves are pretty slow, too.

Indeed, back in Chicago in the summer, GE put on a great show of producing a tri-bladed, ten centimetre plastic turbine for those patient enough to walk onto the stand and wait by a printer.

It was a neat marketing ploy but given the frequency with which the machines were being reset – even the conference gifts were prone to the odd bit of mishap and mayhem.

So is this the dawn of 3D manufacturing and a new horizon for wind or just another case of the January Blues?

For our part, while we’re all for pushing the edge of the innovation envelope, given the wider grid parity and cost challenges that we as an industry currently face – right now this is one bridge too far. One to watch for the future, mind…

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