Rolls Royce SMR wanted to bring their architectural concept to life using the latest manufacturing technology and go beyond the barriers of traditional model making techniques.
The model we have printed is Rolls Royce’s new Small Modular Reactor (SMR) building, as shown in the picture below. This nuclear power station offers a truly innovative and effective solution to meeting global power needs.
Nuclear energy has left many people sitting on the fence between whether this technology is good or bad. But with a growing demand for carbon-free electricity, nuclear remains the best option for saving our planet. It’s clean energy, extremely reliable and can help create thousands of jobs. The only challenges are changing the public perception of nuclear energy, and the complexity of constructing a power plant.
Ever since the 1990’s, Rolls Royce has been developing their SMR programme. The primary focus was to overcome the limitations of existing nuclear power stations as they are costly, complex and take time. Their SMR is a low-cost modular design that is built in a factory to improve certainty of delivery, reduce complexity and optimise safety.
Rolls Royce already holds over 35 patents on SMR technology and is hoping to get the first plant up and running by 2030. The UK government has pledged its efforts to this cause and the project is being part-financed by HSBC bank.
When the client came to us, the only files they could provide us were the architectural drawings for the building. These are fantastic for visuals but aren’t solid CAD models, and so can’t be used for printing. This meant our design team had to re-create the building from scratch by taking measurements from the drawings and then re-modelling it to scale. A time-consuming process given how asymmetric the design is, but necessary to properly represent the building’s proportions.
Once the CAD was finished, it was a case of choosing the best 3D print material for the job. There were 2 components – the roof, which is pictured above, and the base which the roof would sit on. The base was a flat rectangle shape that also included the buildings that sit within the roof. We chose PLA for the base due to its good surface finish and cost-effectiveness. We were keen to showcase that this was 3D printed so left the subtle layer lines on the model.
The roof however needed a more advanced 3D print material because of the complex geometries and thin walls. We decided on Multi-jet Fusion (MJF) technology which is a powder-based Nylon material. MJF uses an inkjet array to selectively apply fusing and detailing agents across a bed of nylon powder, which are then fused by heating elements into a solid layer. After each layer, powder is distributed on top of the bed and the process repeats until the part is complete. The final result offers enhanced surface finish, finer features and more consistent mechanical properties, all in a fast build time.
The first batch for production was to create 10 models, assembled and including a plaque with the Rolls Royce SMR logo. This served as an initial run to showcase their design to prospective clients and give them an up close look at their bold design. Their most well-known client was the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was said to be very excited by the project and blown away by the detail of the model.
This initial run went down so well that soon after they ordered 100 more, plus 32 of an alternate design for some of their partners.
After the first run, 132 more needed to be printed, but a few changes needed to be made first. Rolls Royce required 100 of these models, but during the first production run there were some challenges. Most notably on the support columns that hold up the roof and glue into the base. After we scaled down the design in our CAD software, the columns ended up being 0.7mm diameter which is not ideal for 3D print. We still proceeded because it’s technically possible to print but there were a lot of failures and assembly was made difficult.
We agreed that the design needed to change for this run and increased the diameter to 2mm. The resulting model printed to a far higher standard and was more structurally sound, overcoming all the issues from before.
The other 32 models however were not destined for Rolls Royce but some of their partners who had assisted in the project – most notably HSBC and Eversheds Sutherland. HSBC were the sole financial provider, whilst Eversheds Sutherland were the legal advisors. For their models, they wanted to pay testament to the collaboration between the 3 companies. We did this by expanding the base and incorporating more plaques that commemorated each companies’ achievements.
The finishing touches before despatch was to individually box each model up, secure them in place with some high-density foam and wrap them in bespoke Rolls Royce packaging.
It was a pleasure to work on such an important project for the future of the United Kingdom and we’ve no doubt it will prove a huge success in bringing clean energy to all our homes.