Wärtsilä successfully tests 3D printed metal engine component

The latest triumph for Finnish firm Wärtsilä’s Hub for Additive Manufacturing (WHAM) comes in the form of successfully testing a 3D printed metal component designed for its engines. 

Wärtsilä partnered with global engineering firm Etteplan for the work, which aimed to demonstrate the readiness of 3D printing for adoption within a wider range of applications in the marine industry.

“We were confident enough to put the part in the engine and the results spoke for themselves – the engine always tells the truth,” said Andreas Hjort, General Manager of Smart Design at Wärtsilä.

“The design freedom of 3D printing is opening up a number of opportunities to add value, in terms of both new products and improving the performance of existing ones.”

Wärtsilä and 3D printing

WHAM has been using 3D printing on a small scale for several years and is equipped with plastic, carbon, and metal printers in its facilities. Since 2018, the hub has sought to develop a “regional ecosystem” through the involvement of local universities with the aim of making Vaasa – home to Wärtsilä’s engine design – a world-class 3D printing center that combines industry skills and academia.

WHAM’s first notable success occurred in 2019 with the 3D redesign of a composite lifting tool for heavy engine parts, which proved lighter, more compact, and easier to use than many traditional solid steel lifting tools. The tool could lift a 240kg engine piston on the first attempt and showcased a maximum lifting capacity of 960kg without deformation. To do this, Wärtsilä used an industrial Series X7 3D printer from US-based manufacturer of metal and carbon fiber 3D printers Markforged.

“There was some scepticism in the marketplace as to whether 3D printing could ever produce components that would be strong enough for heavy-duty engine parts,” Hjort said. “But our research and testing proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the material is not an obstacle – in fact, 3D printing offers far more opportunities than restrictions.”

The original Wärtsilä lifting tool was machined out of solid steel and weighed 75% more than its 3D printed replacement. Photo via Markforged.
The original Wärtsilä lifting tool was machined out of solid steel and weighed 75% more than its 3D printed replacement. Photo via Markforged.

3D printed engine component

With Etteplan on board, WHAM has most recently used 3D printing to create a critical metal component for Wärtsilä’s engines. The part has been successfully tested in an engine at full output. To develop the part, Wärtsilä deployed the 3D printer assets in its network, including EOS in Finland, AMEXCI in Sweden, and Additive FVG in Italy, which alongside with Etteplan all played varying roles in the development and production process. 

“Transparency has been crucial and partnering with a network has enabled us to make quantum leaps in leveraging 3D printing,” said Giuseppe Saragò, Director in STH Manufacturing Excellence at Wärtsilä. “This work has also triggered some interesting and innovative new R&D projects that will once again benefit from our network, connecting several universities in Europe, partners like Etteplan and our internal resources so that expertise is shared both within our company and at an ecosystem level.”

According to WHAM, the successful testing of the part proves that 3D printing is increasingly able to meet the demands of a wider range of applications in the marine industry.

Looking to the future

In addition to their collaboration on the 3D printed metal engine component, Wärtsilä and Etteplan are both part of the Finnish Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem (FAME), which has been established to aid Finland in increasing its 3D printing utilization. FAME’s goal is for Finland to hold 5% of the global printing market by 2030.

“Increasing the amount of 3D printing will reduce energy use and emissions, taking global manufacturing in a far more sustainable direction,” said Juho Raukola, Innovation Expert at Wärtsilä. “WHAM has been at the forefront of this trend and it is our aim to continue to bring our customers ground-breaking, customized 3D printed parts that save money, reduce lead times and remove the requirements for warehousing and transport.”

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Featured image shows visions of future shipping – CONVOY. Image via Wärtsilä.