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3D Printers Open Up New Options in Aviation

by Mike Hoffman on June 20, 2013

GE3DprinterPARIS — Add aircraft engines to the growing list of complex parts that companies are now depending on 3D printers to produce.

GE Aviation will produce the cobalt-chromium fuel nozzles in CFM International’s Leap engine with a 3D Printer. The company will use a MakerBot printer to “grow” the part rather than assemble it using the previously required 18 components.

3D printing — or what some call additive manufacturing — continues to grow in the defense market. GE Aviation brought a demonstration model of a 3D printer here to the Paris Air Show to give attendees a first hand look at how easy it operates.

The company plans to make at least a $3.5 billion investment into 3-D printing to produce a host of parts at rates officials with the company claim will be 20 times faster. Eliminating multiple components from the parts also lightens the equipment. GE Aviation officials said the fuel nozzle built by the 3D printer will be 25 percent lighter.

The U.S. military has already seen some of the advantages that 3D printing can bring to the battlefield. The U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force has deployed a team of engineers with a 3D printer to Afghanistan. There, the team has been able to build parts after soldiers have provided direct requests.

Unit commanders have lauded the REF team for the ability to quickly build parts to equipment they need with the use of the 3D printer.

Many mistake 3D printing and its limits. Often, some people will assume a 3D printer can only produce pieces out of plastic. This is wrong.

GE Aviation, for example, said the MakerBot printer can produce parts out of titanium, aluminum, steel and inconel. The lasers built into the printers are hot enough to melt the material and use it to build parts, a GE Aviation official said.

Even using the metallic material, the 3D printer still looks and appears to operate much the standard ink printers seen in offices around the world.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Prodozul June 20, 2013 at 11:47 am

"The company will use a MarketBot printer to “grow” the part rather than assemble"

I believe you mean Makerbot not Marketbot.

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cheti June 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I'm also fairly (like, 99.95) sure they're not using makerbots… which are actually 3d printers. To make metallic parts like the fuel nozzles, they'll be using metal sintering machines – additive manufacturing for sure, but not 3d printing. and certainly not from a consumer, low end product! I would definitely not want to fly on a jet that had its freaking fuel nozzles printed by a makerbot

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Brian June 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm
Will June 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Yep, GE is using tech they acquired when they bought out the Ohio-based companies Morris Technologies & Rapid Quality Manufacturing. http://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/business/ne

The Makerbot Replicator line makes things out of plastic.

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Kim June 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Agree 82 %.

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blight_ June 20, 2013 at 3:10 pm

From 2012: http://www.industrial-lasers.com/articles/2012/07

"CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE and France's Snecma, and GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY, say they are working on a laser additive manufacturing process to produce parts for CFM's Leap family of turbofan engines, which significantly reduce the weight and amount of material used, translating directly into cost savings."

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USS ENTERPRISE June 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I believe that, according to the laster Popular Science Magazine, a few of the parts on the Boeing 787 are printed, and was it GE That quietly bought up a few 3-D printers for the next-gen engines? Either way, I think this opens up more for Composites than "aliminum" or "Aluminum" or however you say it.

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Warfighter June 21, 2013 at 5:59 am

But can they make tea, Earl Grey, hot?

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Thunder350 June 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm

NASA and a few companies are working on this. The first goal is to make Pizza in space. :)

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FreeRoy June 25, 2013 at 9:07 pm

If they have enough laser power to melt/sinter metals, they bloody well CAN heat tea!

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ruines August 24, 2013 at 1:48 am

Mr. O'Brien is still working on it.

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Mitch S. June 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Embarrassing moment for the DefTech blog.
Maybe the "MarkerBot" agents brainwashed you and blocked your ability to read (and Google).

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Russell June 23, 2013 at 12:10 am

All U experts know more about the 3D Printers than GE why aren't U making millions off this technology? Get a contract and train GE on the use of them.

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oblatt1 June 24, 2013 at 2:59 am

The Chinese are way ahead on this already. The J20 makes extensive use of advanced manufacturing techniques.

Contractors like Lockheed are only looking for ways to drive up the cost of production.

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S.R. Hughes June 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I guess you guys didn't look at the video. It's a MakerBot.
http://www.military.com/video/aircraft/military-a

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Ted June 25, 2013 at 7:32 pm

"…to give attendees a first hand look at how easy it operates."

I think he means "easily"…. gosh!

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Eddie June 25, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Lets see a Vimana made up on a 3D printer

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RealityCheck June 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Of course they bring a makerbot to the show.. they are just showing off generic examples and the process, for which a makerbot is perfectly fine. They sure as hell aren't going into mass production with a makerbot.

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wellduh June 28, 2013 at 6:28 am

3D printing/sinistering has no mass production. Every copy is printed seperately.

But yes your point was that the demo was producing fake/mock-up plastic parts — not actual usable metal parts. You just not say it clearly.

Quite often mock parts are made in plastic first to check for flaws and assembly issues with external parts. Metal parts printing is quite bit more expensive and can be slower as well. So often only confirmed designs are printed in metal.

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blight_ July 1, 2013 at 9:48 am

I also have high hopes for something like Handibot, portable CNC:

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