Is 3D printing truly going to become a technology for mass production? And if so, when? What and how many final parts have been 3D printed? GE is helping us shed some light on this topic. After the company’s additive and medical divisions reported that 100,000 hip cups have been 3D printed to date, now GE Aviation is reporting that 30,000 fuel nozzles have been 3D printed for its LEAP engines.
The 30,000th additively-manufactured fuel nozzle tip “grew” on a 3D printer at GE Aviation’s plant in Auburn, Ala., where the jet engine maker opened the industry’s first site for mass production using the additive manufacturing process. GE Aviation in Auburn began producing the nozzle tip in 2015. More 3D printers have been added since the facility started additive production, and now, more than 40 printers are making parts from titanium metal powder.
“This milestone isn’t just about reaching production of 30,000 fuel nozzle tips. The team should also be proud for their role in helping prove additive technology works in mass production for our business and others who buy GE technology.”Ricardo Acevedo, plant leader for GE Aviation Auburn.
GE announced plans in 2014 to invest $50 million in the existing 300,000-square-foot Auburn facility to prepare the building for the additional additive work. There are a total of 230 employees, with projections for employment at the advanced manufacturing location to increase in 2019 to 300 staff members.
The 3D printed fuel nozzle has become one of the most recognizable examples of how 3D printing can streamline manufacturing reducing costs and time requirements. Under the additive manufacturing method, the number of parts in a single fuel nozzle tip was reduced from about 20 pieces previously welded together to one whole piece. The nozzle tip’s weight was cut by about 25 percent.
Until recently, however, the nozzle tip – which has undergone several design changes after the initial prototype – remained a sort of chimera, without anyone really knowing how many were actually being 3D printed and whtehr they would really be installed into the LEAP engine. Now GE has confirmed that the parts are being manufactured in mass numbers, and they will be flying in planes, marking the beginning of more massive adoption of AM processes for actual part production in large batches.
GE Aviation started making additively-produced fuel nozzle tips for the LEAP engine, commercial aviation’s best-selling engine with fuel efficiency up to 15 percent better than the best CFM56 engines. Total LEAP engine orders and commitments currently exceeds 16,300 engines. LEAP engines are a product of CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines and the world’s leading supplier of commercial aircraft engines.
“We’re leading the way of mass producing additive parts for the industry. We’re continuously looking at ways of expanding the possibilities for the business,” Acevedo concluded.