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Additive Manufacturing enables innovative shock wave control in supersonic turbine blades

Scientists at von Karman Institute in Belgium contracted LayerWise for producing a scaled turbine inlet guide vane model for a turbine research project. Additive manufacturing specialist LayerWise built the metal vane specimen as a single part, complete with internal cooling cavity and fine instrumentation channels. Research based on detailed simulation and testing concludes that turbine cooling could be improved by ejecting a pulsating stream through the trailing edge, instead of a continuous stream. At the same time, the pulsed cooling significantly reduces the intensity of the shock waves. This opens up opportunities for jet engine and power plant turbine manufacturers to achieve higher turbine expansions, resulting in more compact engines and reduced development costs.

Pulsated versus continuous cooling

Turbine blades in jet engines and power plants are internally cooled because of their exposition to high-temperature gas flow, directly discharged from the combustion chamber. Shock waves formed at the trailing vane edge generate strong stator/rotor interactions that reduce turbine efficiency and add additional mechanical challenges.

The current research at the von Karman Institute focuses on pulsated cooling versus continuous cooling. Scientists selected and characterized the different building blocks needed to acquire detailed insight into this new concept of pulsated turbine cooling.

Building blocks for fluid dynamics research

A mechanical pulsating valve delivering an adequate margin of frequencies and amplitudes generate the pulsating cooling air. The air flow travels through a model of a high-pressure inlet guide vane produced by LayerWise, circulating all along its length before being ejected through a slot at the trailing edge. It concerns a simplified and scaled turbine inlet guide vane model that is derived from a real geometry.

Tom De Bruyne, LayerWise Sales Manager, explains that the required geometry was out of reach for conventional metalworking processes. "SLM reverses the entire production process by building up material in layers instead of removing it in different metalworking steps. By pinpointing metal powder particles with a powerful high-precision laser, the particles quickly and fully melt so that new material properly attaches without glue or binder liquid. As the laser can access any desired location at any time, we were able to produce the complex geometry of the vane, including all internal cooling cavities and instrumentation channels."

The heavily instrumented vane is designed to allow high density in the measurements. The pressure sensors include both pressure tabs and kulite'sTM unsteady pressure sensors. De Bruyne marks that the SLM-produced vane contains dedicated fittings and channels to ensure that instrumentation sensors and wiring do not influence wind tunnel experiments. SLM is the only metalworking technology that is capable of incorporating these subtle features, which guarantee the validity of the measurement data. In this regards, the researchers at von Karman Institute value the proactive interaction with LayerWise, which helped a great deal in timely achieving the geometric vane requirements.

Engine-representative test conditions

In the wind tunnel, the aerodynamics performance of the vane is experimentally verified under engine representative conditions. As a single experiment only lasts about half a second, the von Karman Institute opted for a Schlieren imaging setup to picture the shock waves formed at the vane trailing edge base region. In the design of the vane, the trailing edge diameter had been enlarged to 5 millimeter to obtain the required spatial resolution for Schlieren experimental imaging and temporal resolution for vortex shedding."

During the wind tunnel tests, the sensors in the vane as well as in the upper and lower wind tunnel flow channels collected all the experimental data. The coolant vane air flow is generated using a rotating valve operating with a perforated rotating disc, delivering a pulsated high-pressure air flow up to 200 Hertz.

Improved vane cooling and shock wave control

Wind tunnel test results, including both time averaged and time resolved results, helped the aerodynamicists to understand and prove the complex physics involved. According to Paniagua, the relationship between pulsated cooling and shock wave behavior is also quite revolutionary. Computed fluid dynamics simulation predicts a 70% reduction in shock intensity, with experimental data conforming the heavy reduction tendency.

"The conclusion of this successful research project is that shock waves can be adequately controlled by optimizing the cooling pulsation timing and amplitude. This offers great potential for aero engine and power plant turbine manufacturers to develop more compact engines exhibiting higher reliability and thrust/weight ratio."

Press release issued by LayerWise N.V. on June 6, 2011


 Contact details from our directory:
LayerWise N.V. Metal & Alloy Fabrications
Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics Research/Consulting Services


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