July 15, 2014

GE's aviation division, the world's largest supplier of jet engines, plans to bring high volume additive manufacturing to its facility in Auburn, AL. GE will use 3D printing to produce a fuel nozzle for use in jet engines.

GE will invest $50M in the existing 300,000-square-foot facility to prepare for the additional work. Upon completion, GE investment will total more than $125M since 2011.

3D printers installation will begin in late 2014 and production of additive components will begin in 2015. By the end of 2015, the plant could have as many as 10 3D printers with the potential to grow to more than 50 printers and occupy a third of the facility at full capacity.

The plans were announced this morning by Gov. Robert Bentley and GE Aviation officials at the Farnborough Air Show near London.

This facility will be the first of its kind to mass produce additive components for the jet propulsion industry.

GE Aircraft Engine

The specific component to be built in the new Auburn facility is a fuel nozzle. This component will also be on the best-selling LEAP jet engine, being developed by CFM International, a joint company of GE and Snecma (SAFRAN) of France and will mark the first time such a complex component will be manufactured using additive technology. The LEAP engine, which will enter airline service in 2016, will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft.

"We can make these parts in a way that we simply couldn't make them before to get better cooling passages and better cooling efficiency," GE CTO Mark Little told CIO Journal in an interview last year. "The parts have shapes that are so complicated that it's difficult to control the tolerances, but it will allow us to make them in a cost-effective manner," Mr. Little said.

Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that mill or cut away from a slab of metal to produce a part, 3D printing "grows" parts directly from a CAD file using layers of fine metal powder and an electron beam or laser. The result is complex, fully dense parts without the waste, manufactured in a fraction of the time it would take using other methods.

3D printed fuel nozzle

CFM to date has logged total orders and commitments for more than 6.000 LEAP engines. There will be almost 20 fuel nozzles in every LEAP engine produced, thus setting the stage for high, long-term production volume at the Auburn plant. According to GE, production will ramp up quickly over the next five years, going from 1,000 fuel nozzles manufactured annually to more than 40,000 by 2020.

"We spent years proving out this technology for a critical component in the heart of the engine, the combustion chamber" said Greg Morris, General Manager, Additive Technologies. "Now we are well positioned to apply this technology to other components in the same harsh environment which could prove to be game changing for future engine programs and designs."

Since opening in April of 2013, GE has hired more than 70 people. Based on current demand for its jet engines, GE expects to hire 300 people when the plant is at full ramp-up later this decade.

To prepare for this new work, GE will partner with local universities and community colleges. The facility will continue its partnership with Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) and Southern Union State Community College (SUSCC) for pre-employment training programs. To develop a pipeline of young talent, GE has worked with Auburn University and Tuskegee University to create internship and co-op opportunities for students.

Posted in 3D Printing Company

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