When people think about 3D printed products or parts, their mind goes to innocuous items, such as paperweights or toys. However, 3D printing is taking on a prominent role in some of the most important manufacturing industries around the world. 3D printed parts are used in the medical field, aviation industry and even by the military. Moreover, while some of those uses are still in their infancy, 3D printed industrial parts manufacturing is already revolutionizing the aviation industry.
Engineers at an aviation company, CFM International, were attempting to create a new, fuel-efficient jet engine that could propel regular passenger planes. The design team did some very impressive work, designing an engine that would use less fuel and deliver fewer emissions. However, they can into an issue with the complexity of the interior of certain parts within the engine. The team was attempting to weld and braze parts together, but they did not find success with any of their attempts. Even though it was a perfectly designed part, which would work flawlessly when created, they were unable to bring it to fruition. That is until they turned to 3D printing for a solution.
3D Printed Aviation Parts
Instead of giving up, the head of the project Mohammad Ehteshami decided to go in another direction. He was determined to get his end result of an engine that was smaller, more fuel efficient and produced fewer emissions. Moreover, he had a feeling that Morris Technologies, a 3D printing company they partnered with in the past, would have a solution.
The Morris Technologies team was famous for using lasers to weld together incredibly thin layers of metal powder to print out parts that were designed on a computer. GE Aviation (one of the parent companies of CFM International) had already been working with Morris on other projects. They would use the 3D printing technology to create prototypes for engines and other parts.
However, now they had a new challenge for Morris – print out a part that was going onto a plane that would be used for commercial purposes. It was something they had not done before. They showed the team at Morris various sketches of the intricate nozzle tip within the engine they were attempting to create.
Lighter and More Powerful Products
The beauty of 3D printing is that it often results in a final part that is lighter than what typical manufacturing would be able to produce. And it is exactly the type of result that Morris Technologies delivered for CFM International. They were able to create the intricate parts of the engine needed by the aviation company. Moreover, they managed to do it at 25 percent less weight than a typically-manufactured nozzle would have.
In 2012, GE Aviation took over Morris Technologies, which allowed the teams to collaborate even more on projects involving 3D printing and aviation parts. Their next project involved printing out an old commercial helicopter engine. The team wanted to see whether they were able to 3D print an entire aviation engine that could work in the same way as a manufactured one. The project took 18 months, but it was a successful venture.
Mass Produced 3D Printed Products
Fast forward a few years and GE Aviation is very much in the 3D printing game. The company uses many 3D printed products within its engines and other components. These products are mass produced to ensure the demand around the world is being met.
The relationship between GE Aviation and 3D printing is showing no signs of slowing down. Recently, the team worked on an advanced turboprop engine with 3D printed parts. The rest was an 855-component engine that was reduced to 12 parts. It also weighed less, burned less fuel and produced more power. It is further proof that 3D printing is here to stay within the aviation industry.