April 26, 2013

GE's aviation division, the world's largest supplier of jet engines, is to use 3D printing technology to produce a fuel nozzle for use in jet engines.

Instead of using traditional casting and welding techniques, the parts will be produced using additive manufacturing — the industrial version of 3D printing commonly used in medical implants and plastic prototypes. This will be the first big test to mass-produce a critical compoent to be used in thousands of jet engines.

To build the fuel nozzles, a computer-controlled laser shoots pinpoint beams onto a bed of cobalt-chromium powder to melt the metal alloy in the desired areas, creating layers one by one with only 20-micrometer thickness.

Last November, GE Aviation acquired Morris Technologies and its sister company, Rapid Quality Manufacturing. The two companies employ about 130 people locally specialized in additive manufacturing.

3D printing "makes unique shapes with high tech material, in a quick period of time, that is worth my time, and a lot of investment", said Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO.

These 3-D-printed nozzles will be used in its LEAP jet engine manufactured by CFM International, a joint-venture between GE and France's Snecma, and each engine will use 10 to 20 nozzles. These engines will be installed in planes in late 2015 or early 2016, that means GE needs to make 25,000 of the nozzles annually within three years.

The additive manufacturing process helps GE to manufacture complex parts cheaper and faster. Traditionally GE had to weld 20 small pieces together to manufacture the part, a labor-intensive process in which a lot of materials were wasted. And additive manufacturing could solve the problems and handle any comlex parts without typical waste. In addition, the light parts it produced could yield significant fuel savings.

The integration of additive manufacturing processes into conventional manufacturing is all about going faster, being more efficient, and improving performance.

GE is an early adopter of additive manufacturing technologies. And GE's work with lasers dates back more than 50 years and GE scientists have been developing laser technology ever since. In recent years GE has applied laser technology in additive manufacturing. For example GE laser scientists at GE Global Research in Shanghai built a unique laser deposition machine that is capable of efficiently building difficult-to-work with materials like titanium into parts as large as 1 meter tall.

GE's other divisions are watching this project closely.

GE Power & Water, which makes large gas and wind turbines, has already identified parts it can make with the additive process, and GE Healthcare has developed a method to print transducers, the expensive ceramic probes used in ultrasound machines. "It's really fundamentally changing the way we think about the company," says Mark Little, GE's chief technology officer.

Source: Technology Review



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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