ENGINEERINGNET / US-FRANCE -- GE started testing its first jet engine that contains 3-D printed parts last week. The engine was designed for next-generation passenger aircraft.
Apart from the 3D printed fuel nozzles, the engine also contains fourth-generation carbon-fiber composite blades and parts made from ceramic matrix composites.
Even in the high-tech world of aerospace manufacturing, the new 3-D printed jet engine fuel nozzle is something special. It is 25 percent lighter and as much as five times more durable than the current nozzle made from 20 different parts, states GE.
But 3-D printing is so new that engineers have to develop new quality control methods before jumping into mass production.
“We are dealing with a microscopic laser weld pool that’s moving at hundreds of millimeters per second,” says Todd Rockstroh, a mechanical engineer at GE Aviation. “Every cubic millimeter is a chance for a defect.”
The company is now developing inspection technology that can collect and analyze manufacturing data and spot potential trouble like temperature anomalies while the part is still being made.
“When the weld pool is too small, things could be colder than they should be, when it’s too big, it could be too hot,” Rockstroh says.
The technology stores the data and allows engineers to pull it up later during X-ray and other conventional testing to determine what went wrong or worked well.
GE estimates that this “in-process” inspection technology could increase production speeds by 25 percent and reduce the time set aside for “post-build” inspection by the same amount.
In all, GE will install 19 fuel nozzles into each 'Leap' engine manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma.
CFM has orders for 4,500 LEAPs and GE plans to produce 100,000 3-D printed components for the LEAP as well as the GE9X engine, in development for Boeing’s new 777X plane.