GE Announces Additive Manufacturing Breakthrough in Commercial Aviation
Additive manufacturing is fulfilling its promise in the aerospace industry more than any other, as evidenced by more than 300 additively produced parts that help compose the new GE9X engine. GE Aviation has brought industrialized next-generation aerospace through additive manufacturing.
In an exclusive interview with Additive Manufacturing, General Electric (GE) Aviation revealed that its GE9X is to be the first commercial aircraft engine to reach production with significant additive content. Boeing’s new 777X twin-engine jet will be powered by the GE9X, a high-bypass turbofan engine that boasts 304 additively manufactured parts integrated into seven multi-part structures. The company says it was able to leverage and build upon earlier successes printing intricate assemblies and complex geometries, namely the 3D-printed fuel nozzle for the LEAP engine.
Of the seven components and 304 parts being additively manufactured for the GE9X, all except the LPT blades and the heat exchanger are cobalt chromium alloy parts printed via direct metal laser melting (DMLM) on Concept Laser M2 machines.
GE has identified the seven additively manufactured components in the engine:
- Fuel nozzle tip
- T25 sensor housing
- Heat exchanger
- Stage 5 low pressure turbine (LPT) blades
- Stage 6 LPT blades
- Combustor mixer
Materials engineering leader Lara Liou points out that the GE9X represents the first time GE Aviation has put multiple materials into additive production for an aviation application. “So now we're developing a true industrialized base and creating standards that already exist in other industries. Standards that help us to control production across multiple production sites; that help us to control across multiple raw materials suppliers; that help us to control across multiple materials and modalities — in other words, a foundation for a truly industrialized supply chain for additive manufacturing,” Liou says.
GE Aviation is currently printing these parts in its manufacturing plants in Auburn, Alabama, United States, and Cameri, Italy. The engine is expected to receive final Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification this year.
Liou continues, “I think the story is still to come on the GE9X. The real impact is going to be when our customers are flying, and they feel the impact of this additive manufacturing technology.”
GE Additive’s Ehteshami says, “To make these parts the ordinary way, you typically need 10 to 15 suppliers, you have tolerances, you have nuts, bolts, welds and braces.” With additive, “all of that went away.” The helicopter project is a detail in a story worth knowing.
The WAAM system has demonstrated the ability to produce a titanium aircraft part, but titanium in particular requires protection against oxidation.
Spirit AeroSystems recently began installing the Boeing 787’s first titanium structural component to be made through AM. The part is not critical but also not minor. I spoke with manufacturing leaders at Spirit about the meaning of the part and the way forward for additive in aircraft structures.