3D-printing on display

For the first time, 3Dprinted parts will be used in a nuclear micro-reactor.

Making parts faster and more cheaply with 3D printing is a focus of the InnovationX Lab Advanced Manufacturing Summit, held at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Between the announcement of a new, $600 million supercomputer and breaking ground on a laboratory building, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry addressed summit attendees and walked through a show-and-tell of 3Dprinted high-tech parts, including pieces of the core for a nuclear microreactor.

Perry and ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia even took a ride in a 3D-printed car.

The Transformational Challenge Reactor Program aims to build a functioning micro-reactor, capable of powering 1,000 houses, as a demonstration for utilities, the program’s team director Kurt Terrani said.

“There is no way you can make this with traditional manufacturing,” he said.

The prototype could be scaled up to meet users’ needs, Terrani said. Traditional reactor construction methods, in use at Oak Ridge since the 1950s, are too expensive and take too long, he said. With 3D printing, not only can sensors and other devices be embedded from the start, but parts can be monitored as they’re made to catch defects, Terrani said.

New technology brings big savings

Being able to stop work on a bad part, rather than discovering a problem later, will be a big savings, said Matthew Preston of BWX Technologies, ATP site engineering manager at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

Printing the parts also lets designers create geometries they couldn’t through traditional methods, or ones that would take years to produce, he said.

The event was the Department of Energy’s third InnovationXLab gathering. Summit participants included representatives from the 17 national laboratories, private companies, government officials, investors, universities and others working on energy efficiency, according to a DOE announcement.

In a general session inside ORNL’s conference center, Zacharia said it was the combination of skills available at Oak Ridge that led to the reactor project at this particular lab.

Advanced manufacturing can cut energy use

Manufacturing uses 25% of the country’s energy, so researching advanced methods to cut manufacturers’ energy use — as well as time and costs — makes sense, he said.

Perry told the assembled crowd of about 200 that he trusted innovation to solve energy problems.

“Nobody does innovation better than our national labs,” he said. The federal government spends more than $10 billion on its national laboratories each year, so it’s helpful to demonstrate how that investment is turned into practical value for businesses, Perry said.

Outside a few minutes later, Perry walked through displays of 3D-printed items, starting with the reactor parts: a wind turbine blade, airplane parts, a submarine, architectural molds and more. At each display researchers and businesspeople told him how 3D printing — or additive manufacturing — cut costs and production time.

Will Perry leave his post?

Addressing rumors that he would soon depart as energy secretary, Perry said he’s previously been rumored to be moving to various other administration posts, but those weren’t true either.

Eventually, of course, Perry’s job will end.

“But not today, or tomorrow, or anytime in the near future,” he said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

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Published May 9, 2019