GE has firmly linked itself with 3D printing, embracing the technology to mass 3D print fuel nozzles for its new LEAP engines, meant to cut carbon emissions and fuel costs by 15%. They’ve already performed test flights with the 3D printed part to certify the engine for operation in a number of airplanes beginning next year. Those new to the process of 3D printing may wonder what’s so special about the technology that the enormous conglomerate would develop an entire facility for mass 3D printing of fuel nozzles. To further explain the advantages of 3D printing in production, GE created a functioning engine for a radio-controlled airplane and made a video outlining the process.
Unfortunately, we can’t embed the video, but you can find it here. In the video, David Bartosik, an engineer with GE’s Additive Development Center, explains how the miniature turbine exemplifies the benefits of 3D printing. His team redesigned an RC engine to be 3D printed with an EOS M270 direct metal laser sintering machine. Bartosik explains that, with the technology, not only could he create complex geometries unattainable with other manufacturing techniques, but that they were able to produce the parts for the engine with high-temperature, high-strength alloys that they wouldn’t have been able to create parts with otherwise. After post-processing the printed parts with machining tools, Bartosik’s team tested the RC engine in a test cell at GE Aviation, getting it to run up to speeds of 33,000 RPMs.
You won’t see the miniature turbine engine in an actual jet anytime soon, but you may ride in a full-sized plane with metal 3D printed parts beginning in 2015.