Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, as it is popularly known as, works by joining materials to create objects with 3-dimensional design, mostly layer by layer. According to reports, the 3D printing industry was valued at US$ 7 billion, up by US$ 3 billion from 2013. The report expects the industry to grow to an astonishing US$ 20 billion by 2025, globally.
The 3D printing technique is being increasingly used in industries for varied applications, especially in the power industry. It is being predominantly used in creating prototypes and production of conventional components which has made the industry achieve simplified processes and efficiency in operation.
Additive manufacturing can create components which have complication geometric shapes. This technique uses significantly less materials, produces less waste reduces energy consumption during production and also lowers time-to-market.
With increasing demand for all-round efficiency in the power sector, manufacturers of components are turning to 3D printing for an added edge and enhanced effectiveness.
Role of 3D Printing in Solar Industry
Though solar cells have been proven technically feasible from a long time the capacity factor (CF) is significantly low, with an average 17% in best-case scenario. The lower CF of solar panels makes it a challenge for large-scale and affordable production. The lack of sufficient subsidies for the industry is also proving to be a hurdle in its advancements.
However, 3D printing has proven to be a revolutionary force in this industry to manufacture cost-effective solar panels.
An MIT research study shows that applications of 3D printing in solar panel manufacturing can reduce production costs by as much as 50%. In addition, the technology can also enhance efficiency by up to 20% as compared to solar panels which are manufactured using conventional technology. This is because solar panels made using additive manufacturing technique are remarkably lightweight and super-thin, which makes them easier to transport, install and maintain.
Role of 3D Printing in Wind Industry
The wind industry had been looking for an innovative and advanced technique to manufacture wind energy equipment. This was considered to be essential to increase the annual power production using wind energy.
The 3D printing technique allows in-site turbine component manufacturers to design unique products according to the needs of specific locations. Besides, additive manufacturing is an excellent tool to fill the increasing demand and supply for wind turbine spare parts for discontinued models as manufacturers usually have limited stock of such components which are essential for repair and maintenance.
In addition, 3D printing technique now allows manufacturers to create large-sized wind blades on the site, instead of having to worry about transporting enormous wind blades from the manufacturing facility to the site.
Role of 3D Printing in Batteries
Immense research is being conducted to find feasibility of using 3D printing in improving power storage technology. This technique has the potential to create batteries with enhanced capacity of varying shapes and sizes.
For instance, a research team from Manchester Metropolitan University, UK has undertaken a project to develop an innovative energy storage system (ESS) using conductive grapheme ink and desktop 3D printer able to print the ESS. Another research team from the Harvard University is on the way to creating a mini version of conventional Lithium-Ion batteries using 3D printing technology. These miniature batteries are bound to be found in miniaturized electronics, robots, medical implants, etc.
The additive manufacturing technology has revolutionized several industries, especially the manufacturing sectors. The power sector is too on its way to benefit from 3D printing, thanks to the innovative aspects and immense potential of the technology to make manufacturing more efficient and affordable.