Jul 27, 2017 | By Benedict

GE (General Electric) has provided an inside look at a 3D printed ATP turboprop engine with 13 3D printed components—one third of its total parts. The 1,300 shaft horsepower engine will power Textron Aviation’s forthcoming 10-person business aircraft, the Cessna Denali.

3D printed fuel heater in GE's new turboprop engine

(Image: Tomas Kellner / GE Reports)

Everyone knows about GE’s work making 3D printed engine parts for aerospace industry. Up until now, however, the scope of those 3D printed parts might have appeared limited: GE’s GE9X jet engine, for example, contains 19 3D printed fuel nozzles, but the rest of the engine is made up of traditionally made parts.

That’s why the company’s sneak peek of its new aircraft engine, equipped with one third 3D printed parts, is so exciting.

The advanced turboprop (ATP) engine, rated at 1,300 shaft horsepower, is smaller than the GE9X, having been made to power the Cessna Denali, a forthcoming 10-person business aircraft built by Textron Aviation.

But its smaller size doesn’t make it any less of an engineering feat. To demonstrate its achievements, GE brought a mock-up of the engine to the EAA AirVenture event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a huge aviation exhibition that opened its doors on Monday.

The mock-up has certainly impressed attendees in Oshkosh, but a working engine could be used in a test flight as soon as 2018.

Textron Aviation's forthcoming Cessna Denali

“It’s revolutionary,” commented Gordie Follin, head of engineering for the ATP (Advanced Turboprop) program. “The engine is using state-of-the-art technologies that we have validated in our large commercial engines. We are introducing them for the first time in the turboprop market.”

Textron Aviation announced that GE would be making the 3D printed turboprop engine last year. Until now, however, many details about the engine had remained secret.

3D printed parts on the turboprop engine include aerodynamics, variable stator vanes, and fully integrated digital engine and propeller controls. And by introducing these lightweight 3D printed parts to the engine, the rest of the aircraft can be fitted with extra features.

Textron Aviation's forthcoming Cessna Denali

“We are enabling Textron to provide a larger and more luxurious cabin with the same range and cruise speed that their customers expect,” Follin says. “At the same time, the pilot will be sitting in a simplified, jet-like cockpit.”

As a direct result of additive manufacturing, the turboprop engine will have around 30 percent fewer parts than it would have otherwise, while the number of steps required to manufacture the engine has also been greatly reduced.

Cutting out the number of steps makes the engine quicker to produce, but there are other significant advantages that come with using 3D printing. For one, the new engine cuts out the risk of losses and leakages, since its 3D printed parts have no joints.

Several additive manufacturing processes, including direct metal laser melting, were used to produce the 3D printed engine components.

“This is not a matter of simply replacing one production method with another, but of reinventing the way aviation engines are conceived and designed,” said Giorgio Abrate, engineering lead at Avio Aero, the GE subsidiary that developed the ATP.

According to GE, the ATP is also the world’s first “digital native” aviation engine, having been designed using digital 3D modeling techniques rather than 2D schematics. It will also contain sensors for providing real-time updates on the wear and tear of the engine, so engineers on the ground will know exactly when to perform maintenance on the system.

GE's ATP turboprop engine contains 13 3D printed components

Interestingly, GE’s new engine will contain technology that will allow pilots to fly the forthcoming Denali plane like a jet, controlling the engine and the propeller “with a single lever.”

With 3D printing being used to make the combustion chamber and numerous structural elements within the engine, the overall pressure ratio (OPR) of the engine will be an “industry-best” 16:1, allowing it to deliver 15 percent lower fuel burn and 10 percent higher cruise power over competitor engines.

Other 3D printed parts include the engine’s power gearbox, described by GE as “one of the first of its kind to feature an additive main housing,” and the combustor, built around a reverse-flow configuration to minimize length while improving overall engine weight and installation.

Those not attending EAA AirVenture might not have to wait long to see the 3D printed ATP in flight. Full production of the engine is slate­d to begin next year, and the Cessna Denali is expected to be flying by the end 2019.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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