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Additive manufacturing history in the making as Boeing 777X makes maiden flight with GE9X engines

Each engine has about 300 3D printed parts (including a lot of blades)

Additive manufacturing history was made with the first flight of the Boeing 777X aircraft. That’s because each of the two GE9X engines powering the aircraft is built using over 300 3D printed parts (of which about 80% are the titanium alumide engine blades). These parts were produced by GE teams at Avio Aero in Cameri, Italy and GE’s Additive Technology Center (ATC) in West Chester, Ohio.

This tremendous achievement for Boeing and GE – which was tracked live on the dedicated website – marks a very important advancement for flying parts made by additive manufacturing in aviation. “Today’s massive milestone is a testament to the outstanding work and dedication of both companies,” said David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation. “We are proud to be the power under the wings of the 777X and provide this state-of-the-art aircraft with GE’s advanced technology.” That includes cutting-edge materials like ceramic matrix composites and manufacturing methods like 3D printing, which come together to make the GE9X the most fuel-efficient engine in its class that GE has ever made.

Each of the GE9X integrates more than 300 engine parts, including the fuel nozzle tip that precisely sprays a mixture of fuel and air into the combustion chamber, low-pressure turbine blades and heat exchanger. Another, the inducer, helps pull out dust, sand and other debris the engine has ingested and extends its life. This type of component was so difficult to manufacture that it has never been used inside a commercial GE jet engine before. “The inducer cannot be manufactured any other way, except by 3D printing,” says Zach Studt, Senior Manufacturing Engineer at GE Aviation. “In this way, additive is unlocking performance of the engine. A different manufacturing process can deliver a better product. Going forward, most engines will probably come with some version of that inducer.”

Based on the top-selling Boeing 777, which first went into service in 1994, and with advanced technologies from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the 777X will be the largest and most fuel-efficient twin-engine jet in the world. Featuring new breakthroughs in aerodynamics along with its engines, the 777X will deliver 10 percent lower fuel use and emissions and 10 percent lower operating costs than the competition.

A true family, the 777X promises low-risk, profitable growth, industry-leading reliability and seamless integration with the 777 and 787 Dreamliner families for even more flexibility. But performance is just part of the story. With a spacious, wide cabin, new custom architecture and innovations from the 787 Dreamliner, the 777X is ow expected to deliver the flight experience for the near and medium-term future of civil aviation.

This is in large part made possible by the GE9X, which is the sole-source engine for the Boeing 777X family. It is the world’s largest and most powerful commercial aircraft engine and incorporates GE’s most advanced technologies, developed over the last decade, to make it the most fuel-efficient engine in its class. “In the past, designers were trapped by the manufacturing methods available to them,”  said Antroine Townes, ATC site leader, “now you can take those limitations away and design the best thing for the engine, not the best thing for manufacturing.”

*This content of this article was modified on February 25th, 2020 to reflect the fact that each GE9x engine contains 300 3D printed parts and not “300 parts condensed into just 7 3D printed parts”, as erroneously written. While not immediately clear due to conflicting reports, this information was finally confirmed by GE Additive CEO Mr. Jason Oliver. Mr. Oliver also pointed out that there are other GE engine demonstrator projects where several hundred parts are condensed into just a few 3D printed subassemblies.
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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst for leading US-firm SmarTech Analysis, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he Co-founded London-based 3dpbm. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites 3D Printing Media Network and Replicatore, as well as 3D Printing Business Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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