What is this? A jet engine for ants?! We can only hope that the team at GE’s Aviation’s Additive Development Center were fully stocked with orange-mocha frappuccinos during the development of their latest pint-sized wonder: a 3D-printed jet engine.
Now, the engine wasn’t printed with an extruder as we’re used to, but rather built by melting metal powder with an electron beam or laser, and stacking that material layer upon layer.
Yeah. Sign us up for that job.
Building a complete jet engine was a bit too complicated, so the team based their design on one meant for remote-control model planes. Once assembled, the engine was tested in a cell typically used for full-scale engines, and amazingly, it roared at an impressive 33,000 RPM without fail.
“This was a fun side project,” says team member Matt Benvie. But the design’s applications are very real: using additive manufacturing (AM) in the aviation-tech space not only reduces waste, but means that engineers can build extremely precise parts – and fast. This from-the-ground-up metal smithing completely eliminates the necessity for tooling – finding the right mechanical “Joe” for the job – because the printer’s software allows you go right from design to construction.
“This is much more that a stunt,” says 3d printing analyst Terry Wohlers. “It shows what’s possible with 3D printing technology. GE Aviation will be producing tens of thousands of fuel nozzles by AM for its new-generation CFM LEAP engine.” (A brief pause for you to marvel at that thing. Holy effing ess.) “And Airbus has also produced complex metal AM parts that have already flown on the new A350.”
Is this the future of aviation mechanics? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a promising start, and seriously cool.
IMAGES: GE Aviation
HT: GE Reports