New South Wales engineering company, Archer Enterprises, has made a contribution to the development of a new breed of power generation technology which is receiving interest from around the world.
The project for Australian company Granite Power is funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
The project required that Archer Enterprises manufacture highly complex stainless steel and titanium components with very fine tolerances – including making multiple versions which were fractions of a millimetre different in order to simulate their changing dimensional behaviour under extreme operating temperatures.
Granite Power Research Project Manager, Sean McCracken, worked closely with Archer throughout the design and manufacturing stages and was there at the "unveiling" of the full assembly at Archer's purpose-built facility.
"We sent our CAD data to Archer and they converted it into three dimensional TopSolid7 files," said McCracken.
"Archer helped us with the design phase and was then responsible for making the front end assembly for the impulse turbine for our Granex Waste Heat Recovery demonstration model.
"The Granex technology captures waste heat from a power generator and re-uses it through our Granex Heat Conversion System.
"We're talking about 60 bar in this system. The waste heat is moving at more than Mach 1.7 through the front nozzle, it hits the turbine blades and drives them at 70,000RPM. Internal temperatures vary between 200 and 260 degrees Celsius."
McCracken says Australia is not renowned for turbine development which makes this a first for the country. "It was always a fairly ambitious thing to take on."
"The overseas technology that we wanted was so expensive and for us to make it a commercial application we needed to find a way of reducing the cost," he explained.
"Having Archer make the assembly has been the most economical way for us to do it. We found that there were far greater cost efficiencies to develop it here."
Archer Enterprises manufactured highly complex stainless steel and titanium components with very fine tolerances.
Archer had to make complex parts like the impeller. The machining of the impeller alone reportedly took two hours.
Archer also made multiple versions of one part that were fractions of a millimetre apart to mimic the changes that the component will undergo due to the extreme temperature changes in the turbine.
"If the impeller was too tight we'd suffer friction when it made contact with the shroud. We really appreciate all the extra effort involved," said McCracken.
"We didn't ask them to do that, they just went and did it. I think their enthusiasm has driven us along. I've dealt with a lot of people and you feel you have to push therm along but with Archer it's been so easy."
Chief Executive Officer Stephen de Belle echoes McCracken's comments. "Granite Power has enjoyed a very productive relationship with Archer. Their mastery of design and process for this type of product and application has been fantastic.
"They also made us aware of certain issues which we hadn't appreciated the significance of and then they were able to help us resolve them. Brad, Russell and the team are very enthusiastic about their work and it has been good to work with people who are proud of what they do."
"Granite Power told us that Australia is not known for having this technology so the normal thing to do is to have the parts made overseas. However with their decision to keep the design, manufacturing and testing process here in Australia they found there were far greater cost efficiencies to develop it here."
"I really want other companies out there to know this. Going overseas should not be the first choice. If they are looking to develop a new product or improve an existing one maybe no-one is listening to them. Maybe they feel they have to look elsewhere. I want to hear their pain. I want to solve their problems."
This is a sentiment echoed by his brother and co-director Brad Byrne: "We always like to take on new challenges and to extend ourselves. We are known for taking on the projects that others regard as 'too hard'. We have more than 110 years of combined experience in our team and we have invested in a wide range of world-best equipment."
Russell and Brad say they have structured the business with a focus on developmental manufacturing for R&D, making working prototypes, producing low volume runs of complex and specialised components, and helping to test them.
In the case of the turbine it is a complex design with very fine tolerances – heat enters the nozzle at more than Mach 1.7 and drives the turbine blades at 70,000 RPM, internal pressure is as high as 60 bar and internal temperatures can reach 260 degrees Celsius.
"We do have the ability in Australia to produce cost-efficient highly specialised parts and products. The challenge is in getting that message out to the mainstream market."
De Belle says their breakthrough Granex technology has attracted the attention of countries around the world. "Our exclusive technology which has been developed in conjunction with the University of Newcastle power had already led to enquiries from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Africa.
"We are having discussions with various international agencies and will be inviting them to come to our facility and see the turbine in action. This is a real case of Australian technology to the world."
Archer Enterprises co-director Brad Byrne says this has been a very rewarding project. "We always like to take on a new challenge and to extend ourselves. We are known for taking on the projects that others regard as 'too hard'.
"With the wide range of equipment that we have in place and the combined expertise of our team we really are suited to developmental manufacturing for R&D, making working prototypes, producing low volume runs of complex and specialised components, and helping to test them.
"Granite Power gave us an opportunity to produce fail-safe parts that have to work non-stop in extreme operating conditions. We are very proud to have contributed to their technology," concluded Byrne.