Apr 25, 2016 | By Benedict

General Electric has started testing its GE9X jet engine, currently the world’s largest, at a test site near Peebles, Ohio. The engine, whose front fan spans 11 feet (3.35 meters) in diameter, contains 19 3D printed fuel nozzles.

Although most 3D printers are designed to build objects no larger than a shoebox, 3D printed components often make their way into bigger structures—sometimes much bigger. Last week, GE began testing its brand new GE9X jet engine, a colossal piece of equipment that will soon find its way into Boeing’s next-generation 777X jet, which will be flown by airlines such as Emirates, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and Cathay Pacific. The GE9X, which can generate 100,000 pounds of thrust, is remarkable for its size and power, but also for its inclusion of 19 3D printed fuel nozzles.

The enormous GE9X jet engine makes use of 16 fourth-generation carbon-fiber fan blades, as well as a number of heat-resistant materials called ceramic matrix composites, which have been utilized inside the combustor and turbine. However, despite the multitude of engineering marvels to be found inside the GE9X, it is those well-publicized 3D printed fuel nozzles which have really caught our attention over the last few years.

By using additive manufacturing technology, engineers at GE were able to reduce the weight of the fuel nozzle by around 25%, whilst maintaining the strength of its traditionally manufactured predecessor. This feat of engineering was achieved by creating complex, tunnel-like internal geometries for the nozzles. “These tunnels and caves are a closely guarded secret,” said Rick Kennedy, a GE Aviation spokesman. “They determine how the fuel moves through the nozzle and sprays inside the combustion chamber.”

GE has been testing various parts of the GE9X for several years now, but last week marked the first testing of the entire engine. The giant metal object was suspended between two concrete structures at GE’s testing facility near Peebles, Ohio, where the $10 million testing process was carried out. Engineers added a fourth fuel tank to provide the engine with sufficient juice, whilst also adding fortification to the concrete testing stand and new, heat-resistant materials to the air systems. “We also upgraded our engine hoists and transporters to handle the GE9X and modified a wall in our prep building so the engine can be moved after final assembly to make its way to the test stand,” said Brian DeBruin, plant manager for GE Aviation’s Peebles Test Operation.

Testing will begin on a second GE9X in 2017, with the engine scheduled to enter service by 2020. GE has reportedly taken over 700 orders for the GE9X, worth around $29 billion in total.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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