When one thinks of ceramics, coffee cups or dishes commonly come to mind. But Dan Sokol, managing partner at Ohio-based Renaissance Services, takes ceramics to a whole new level.
With contracts that include the Air Force and the Defense Logistics Agency, Sokol and his 15-year-old company are using ceramic additive manufacturing to make parts for aerospace defense applications, including turbine blades, vanes, and seals.
Advanced turbine airfoil technologies use complex cooling channels within the high temperature blades and vanes to maintain temperatures in the safe operating range of metal alloys.
These cooling channels require ceramic cores to form the internal pathways during the metal casting process. Developing these intricate ceramic cores is a lengthy and expensive process involving customized metal dies for each new turbine airfoil design.
Traditional methods for producing ceramic cores can require six to eight months of development time. An additive manufacturing approach, like that used by Renaissance Services, cuts this time in half and avoids the cost and time for fabricating dies. With ceramic additive manufacturing, core designs can be modified and fabricated for evaluation in as little as one week.
Through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Vouchers program, Renaissance Services, a Round 2 awardee, partnered with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to help make the 3D-printed ceramics process even more efficient and cost-effective. Using a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, supported by DOE's Advanced Manufacturing Office, LLNL is helping Renaissance Services improve yields during 3D-printed ceramics processing.
SBV enables U.S. small businesses like Renaissance Services to access the facilities and researchers at DOE national labs. Through SBV, small companies can advance their technologies to market faster.
“It’s very beneficial for both of us,” said Jeff Haslam, the Polymers and Ceramics Group Leader, within LLNL’s Materials Engineering Division. “We’re exposed to working with real business applications and contribute from our experience how to help them solve challenges.”
For Sokol, working with Haslam and his team at LLNL helps the company navigate from simply making parts in a lab to putting them in a production setting. Ceramic additive manufacturing, at less than a decade old, is a relatively new process; Sokol has found LLNL’s experience and knowledge of ceramic additive manufacturing extremely valuable.
“Working with LLNL allows us to avoid doing blind trial and error. It’s important to have the LLNL team, with their innate knowledge of what’s going on at the level of molecules or crystalline structures, to guide us because there’s not enough time or money to do all the experiments,” said Sokol. “Their knowledge of ceramics and access to testing services gives us insights we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
This work reduces the time from design to testing to application in the field, giving planners and engineers greater flexibility. Ultimately the impact of the work will reduce the design and production time for advanced turbines and reduce costs for industrial, commercial, and military applications.