Oct 21, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing is making a name for itself in the Czech Republic. Locals can actually see 3D printed parts driving around the city of Prague already, as the 4ekolka 3D printed electric city car is being tested on the city’s open roads. But even more 3D printing activity will hit the region in a few years from now, as GE and the Czech government just announced plans to build a new 3D printing factory outside of Prague. Scheduled to open in 2022, the factory will act as GE Aviation’s first aircraft engine HQ, and will be used to 3D print engine parts for the next-gen Cessna Denali, among others.

GE has been very interested in metal 3D printing and is currently in the process of acquiring two leading developers in that field, SLM Solutions and Arcam, for a combined sum of $1.4 billion. But GE’s Aviation department has been working with metal 3D printing for some time already, and last summer even revealed plans to 3D print the engine for the work-in-progress Cessna Denali aircraft.

As most readers will doubtlessly know, Cessna (which is part of US conglomerate Textron) is especially known for those small tourist aircraft that are used to explore vast emptiness of Canada’s forests, for instance. But they also produce a wide range of other airplanes, including private jets. And for that high-end portion of their clientele, Textron is currently working on the Cessna Denali. Costing ‘just’ $4.8 million, it’s a business aircraft featuring many of the comforts you can find on a private jet, but then at an entry level price. It’s also a bit bigger than a typical Cessna aircraft, featuring a cabin that seats up to eight people.

But for added appeal, these aircraft will feature a powerful 3D printed propeller engine that is strong enough to fly from Miami to New York. GE was therefore tapped for development, and will be spending $400 million to develop the engine. 3D printing will be their prime weapon, and will help to consolidate 845 parts into just 11 3D printed components. While far more cost-effective, this reduction in complexity will also speed up production, reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent, and make the engine 10 percent more powerful. What’s more, it will also be less heavy than existing engine alternatives.

According to GE Aviation’s turboprop program manager Milan Slapak, these benefits are a logical consequence of 3D printing. “The physics is simple,” he said. “The more metal you have in the air, the more money you need to spend on the material itself and on the fuel to keep it flying. Also, an engine with fewer components reduces the number of parts you need to design, certify, inspect and make or order. 3D printing really is the game changer and it will totally change the way traditional supply chains operate and simplify them massively.”

This revolutionary engine has been under development for the last three years, and individual 3D printed fuel nozzles and other jet engine and gas turbine parts have already been realized. To further support those efforts, this new Prague factory will be completely focused on the 3D printing turboprop engine components, and will employ 500 people. “It will be a different world 10 years from now from the manufacturing perspective,” Slapak says, “and we definitively want to be behind the driving wheel. Additive will enable us to make parts with complex shapes that are currently either impossible to achieve using conventional technologies or are simply too expensive to make.”

The choice for Prague isn’t actually a strange one, and can be traced back to the 2008 acquirement of small Czech engine company Walter Aircraft Engines. Before that purchase, GE hadn’t developed new turboprop engines in decades. Since that takeover, Walter and GE turboprop engines have clocked in nearly 20 million flying hours, powering 30 types of aircraft in remote regions of the world. And with this new factory, this manufacturing division is set to receive a huge boost.

 

 

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ThatGuy wrote at 10/22/2016 7:29:49 PM:

845 parts into 11- but if something breaks currently you can replace a small part but in the future you'll have to replace a larger part. It will be interesting to see how that all works out.



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