3D in nuclear technology
In depth

3D in nuclear technology

The components used by nuclear power plants must be robust, reliable and resistent to high temperatures. All this can be achieved with 3D design and printing, which have gradually become viable construction tools for the nuclear sector.

3D design and printing offer quality and money-saving options, and the nuclear sector supports this technology both for design and site maintenance and for the creation of prototypes as well as manufacturing spare parts.

3D design, scanning and virtual reality

3D design technology is becoming very successful in nuclear industry. The French software company Dassault Systèmes co-operates with the engineering company Assystem to apply 3D simulation and data technology to nuclear projects, which will greatly improve the project’s efficiency thanks to the virtual reality applications.

More specifically, Dassault Systèmes will incorporate its 3DEXPERIENCE platform to nuclear power plants, allowing engineers to integrate the knowledge they obtain from physical processes into a common data storage system. This will be helpful in unifying the information models and allowing the operation of process simulators that can recognize cost-saving opportunities. 3DEXPERIENCE will also manage engineering data, program management and configuration and the capacities for resource endowmen.

The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Sheffield, UK, supports 3D scanning and virtual reality systems to study data from nuclear power plants, make off-site designs and more efficient planning, which could even help reduce the exposure to radioactive doses.

3D printing

D printing of spare parts can also be very cost-effective, and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) is one important pioneer. Among other things, GEH will be using 3D printing to minimize waste and reduce manufacturing times to one tenth. Another project by GEH consists of irradiating 3D-printed pieces to compare them with the non-irradiated material.

Due to the size limitations of 3D printing, GEH will make components of up to 400 cubic centimeters, although it already has prepared for 3D printing a series of components that improve performance in elements such as particle filters, boiling water reactors and anti-vibration jet pumps. The new plants under construction will also benefit from 3D-printed pieces such as the mechanisms of control bars.

3D in nuclear technology
3D printed piece for GEH (Source: Ricardo Mojana)

Recently, the Russian company Rosatom shared its plans to update and expand the nuclear sector with 3D printing of metallic pieces, with the support of various dedicated centers currently under construction.

Siemens and Westinghouse, pioneers

Following the integration of 3D printing as part of its portfolio of digital services, Siemens reached a major milestone with the first continued safe operation of the first 3D-printed piece at the Slovenian Krško nuclear power plant. Due to the strict safety and reliabiility requirements in the nuclear sector, obtaining this qualification is a very significant achievement.

Siemens has designed and manufactured a pump impeller via additive manufacturing and 3D printing. This is a spare part for a protective anti-fire pump which is in continuous rotative operation. The original impeller was in operation from the time of the plant’s construction in 1981, but the original manufacturer is no longer in business. This way, this technology makes it possible for operating plants to continue operating until the moment of shut down.

The expert team at Siemens in Slovenia created a “digital twin” of the piece. The company’s additive manufacturing center in Finspång, Sweden, applied an advanced process with 3D printing for the production of this piece.

Westinghouse plans to become the first company to install a 3D-printed component for a fuel element in a commercial nuclear reactor. With this technology, Westinghouse wishes to reduce the price of spare parts while at the same time accelearting the quantification of material and 3D-printed components. The company already uses additive manufacturing to make molds and produce supports and bearing housings for electric engines.

3D in nuclear technology
On the right: 3D-printed pump impeller. On the left: the original impeller. Center: a prototype for manufacturing (Source: Siemens)
3D in nuclear technology
Component developed with 3D technology by Westinghouse (Source: Westinghouse)

Although the financial benefits of 3D are not yet completely visible, the opportunities of 3D design are starting to show their value in the nuclear sector. Engineering and manufacturing companies are already contemplating a 15% increase in their efficiency during the design and engineering stages at the plants. Besides, the number of revisions was reduced by 25% and the control times for engineering quality by 30%.