It can be argued that the progress of mankind parallels its ability to capture energy from fluids and impart energy to fluids. Indeed, there is little doubt that the developed world has benefited immeasurably from:
- The efficient pumping of water and other fluids for agricultural, industrial and domestic purposes;
- Turbomachinery’s ability to produce power efficiently using steam and hydraulic turbines;
- Affordable air travel that has been possible through the development of efficient aircraft gas turbines; and
- Access to space that has been made possible, in part, through the development of lightweight rocket turbo pumps.
To some, it may appear that the Golden Age of Turbomachinery Design is behind us and that the design space has been thoroughly explored: turbomachinery design has become a mature and mundane science. For those creating turbomachinery designs, the perspective is much different. Advances in computational power, new materials and new manufacturing methods are fueling a revolution in how turbomachines are designed and manufactured. Indeed, many industry insiders feel that the Golden Age of Turbomachinery Design is dawning.
The optimization and automation of the turbomachinery design process is becoming commonplace as computing power increases and becomes more affordable. A simplistic approach is to perform the same, proven design steps faster using better computers. While this may tend to reduce the time required to complete a design, few breakthroughs in performance are likely.
Another, more innovative approach is to expand the design space and allow an automated design process to explore possibilities that were previously beyond our reach. This method requires the designer to be prepared to put aside conventional wisdom in favor of new and unproven designs. Innovative designers that have access to in-house test facilities are able to validate these new designs and produce turbomachinery with marked performance gains over traditional machines.
Another approach is to increase the range of parameters over which a design is optimized. A traditional approach would be to optimize the design of a turbomachine to yield the greatest performance. Interestingly, engineers with access to a turbomachinery manufacturing environment have begun to optimize designs to include manufacturing and life cycle cost considerations. This ability to design a turbomachine to achieve the lowest life cycle cost is both compelling and revolutionary. Recent advances in both additive and subtractive manufacturing are allowing today’s engineers to consider designs that were previously out of bounds. Indeed, it is now clear that the true advantage of additive manufacturing is its ability to make parts that cannot be manufactured using conventional means.
When turbomachinery designers combine the possibilities presented by additive manufacturing with the much wider design space now possible through computing advances, radically new designs are possible. This next generation of turbomachines has the potential to create a step-change in both the performance and cost of these devices.
Over the next few years, conventional wisdom will be challenged, and a new generation of machines fielded. Previous design and manufacturing constraints will be lifted, ushering in a new generation of turbomachines, and with it, the Golden Age of Turbomachinery Design.