May 3, 2018 | By David

Global technology leader and 3D printing expert GE has received a new $9 million contract from the Office of Naval Research. The company will be launching a program to speed up the production of replacement parts for naval vessels, aircraft and other important assets. The key to the new system will be the creation of "digital twins" of existing parts, which will build up a platform that will enable replacements to be 3D printed on-demand.

The new program is due to last for four years, and will involve collaboration from GE Aviation, GE Additive, Honeywell, Penn State, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Navy Nuclear Lab (NNL) and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM). It will prove particularly useful for replacing older legacy parts that are no longer being manufactured. The age of the average Naval vessel is around 17 years, with the oldest operational asset dating back to 1970.

According to Ade Makinde, Principal Engineer, Additive Technologies at GE Global Research, "The key challenge with industrial 3D printing is being able to additively build a part that mirrors the exact material composition and properties of the original part that was formed through subtractive measures.  With the kind of mission-critical equipment the Navy operates, there is no room for deviations in material performance or manufacturing error."

The Digital Twins that are now being developed have already been implemented by GE for applications in the energy and aviation sectors, amongst others. These digital models will be exact replicas of parts currently in use by the Navy on its various marine and aviation assets, as well as new ones that are in the process of being manufactured. They will be created using advanced model-based data from these parts as well as sensor-based data from metal 3D printing systems.

The digital twins are also capable of being updated in real-time, integrating new sensor data and engineering knowledge from technical experts in order to reflect the exact state of their physical counterparts. Using such accurate replication technology will enable the process of parts certification and qualification, which is crucial for these demanding military applications, to be drastically sped up.

A similar 3D technology system has already been used throughout the automotive sector for many years. Many older and classic car models will have specific parts that are no longer being manufactured, and the technology required to produce them might not even be operational anymore. The use of digital replicas and 3D printing allows these parts to be reverse engineered and then fabricated on-demand.

(images: GE, ONR)

LLNL will have a key role in the program, bringing its years of research and development of intelligent "feed forward" design methods in metal AM. The Livermore method combines multi-physics modeling and simulation with state-of-the-art experimental observations, which enables the training of 3D printers to predict and produce defect-free metal parts the first time, as opposed to traditional trial-and-error approaches.

The four-year program is scheduled to occur in two 2-year phases. Phase 1 will focus on the underlying software and hardware developments. In Phase 2, GE will go on to build a complete AM system, demonstrating the rapid and robust creation of a part’s digital model or digital twin and 3D printing of that part using Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM).

 

 

Posted in 3D Technology

 

 

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