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3D Printing Takes Off In Aircraft Engines: GE Aviation

Posted By Paul Tate, June 25, 2013 at 6:02 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

Bob McEwan, general manager for new product innovation at GE Aviation predicts that by 2020 “well over 100,000 parts” in its new range of LEAP and fuel-efficient GE9X aircraft engines will be produced using 3D printing techniques. At last week's Paris Air Show, the company even showed off a 3D printer to demonstrate how additive manufacturing can be used to make final engine parts.

GE Aviation is taking the new additive manufacturing production technology seriously – especially direct metal laser melting (DMLM), which precisely melts fine layers of metal powders layer by layer from the bottom up.

In a recent guest blog, McEwan explained that there are more than 10,000 highly precise parts in today’s advanced aircraft engines and that new 3D printing techniques offer significant benefits over previous ‘subtractive manufacturing’ approaches.

  • Minimal waste: Additively manufactured parts are “grown” from the ground up, resulting in little to no material waste.
  • Efficiency: In many cases, additive manufacturing creates parts more quickly than subtractive manufacturing with fewer steps and tools, and with a more cost-effective assembly.
  • Flexibility: While subtractive manufacturing techniques are confined to tools, molds and apparatuses, additive manufacturing allows the engineer to make more complex geometries as well as manufacture prototype components for testing and analysis.
  • Quality: State material properties are better than castings and very similar to wrought materials.
  • Lighter: Printed parts can be made lighter than forged parts, which translate into lighter jet engines and fuel savings for aircraft.

“I believe product innovation will increasingly go hand-in-hand with manufacturing innovation,” said McEwan. “Applying additive manufacturing processes to jet engine design is just one of many steps in this direction.”

You can watch more about GE Aviation’s 3D printing initiatives here.

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive


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