Selective laser metal sintering is set to enable a burst of creativity for today's young gas turbine design engineers. Unconstrained by the rigours of conventional manufacturing techniques, this freedom of expression is expected to lead to a host of advances that will make power generation both more efficient and lower cost.

Though conservative by nature – placing much emphasis on long-term reliability – the major Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) supplying the power generation sector are nonetheless continually exploring new technologies with which to advance their product offerings. Renowned for engineering excellence, it's no surprise that advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing (AM) techniques are attracting growing interest in this sector.

Still relatively new, the additive process of building up complex components layer-by-layer using Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) – also referred to the registered terms Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) – is already becoming more widely known in other manufacturing sectors, such as the automotive, medical and aviation industries. Indeed, with the gas turbines used in power generating applications originally emerging from the aviation sector, it's no surprise that advanced manufacturing technologies are also crossing over.

Components featuring complex geometry manufactured in engineering metals such as stainless steel, nickel alloys and so on that can be machined, welded and subjected to a host of other production and assembly operations makes SLM an ideal manufacturing process. But to date at least, its high cost has typically limited its application to prototyping and low volume production. Such components can be produced without tooling and very efficiently in terms of materials consumption. Nonetheless, its advantages are particularly attractive to high-spec engineering industries such as energy production and its use.

This article appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Metal Powder Report.

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