AUBURN, Alabama – At GE Aviation’s new manufacturing plant here in Alabama, the mass production of highly sophisticated aviation components is well underway using additive manufacturing (also called “3D printing”) technology.
GE’s Auburn plant is running 28 additive printing machines around the clock, producing fuel nozzle injectors (also called “nozzle tips”) for the best-selling LEAP jet engine from CFM International, a 50/50 joint company of GE and Safran Aircraft Engines of France.
It is the first sophisticated jet engine component to be produced using the additive manufacturing process, and it has been successfully operating in airline service since this summer as part of a growing LEAP jet engine fleet powering the Airbus A320neo aircraft.
Between GE Aviation’s printing machines at its Additive Technology Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the manufacturing site in Auburn, GE will produce about 6,000 LEAP fuel nozzle injectors in 2016, growing to 12,000 in 2017. In early 2017, all production of these components will occur in Auburn.
By 2020, GE is expected to operate more than 50 printing machines in Auburn, producing more than 35,000 engine fuel nozzle injectors annually using additive. By the end of the decade, GE is expected to have produced about 100,000 fuel nozzle injectors using additive.
The LEAP fuel nozzle injector is produced as a single structure. In contrast, producing the same part using conventional casting processes would require welding and brazing 20 different parts. Using the additive process, the LEAP nozzle injector is 25% lighter and five times more durable.
“The industrialization of our additive process is going very well,” said Sean Keith, manager of Machine Technology for GE Additive. “Our production rates and yields for the LEAP nozzle tips are where we had hoped, and cost curves are trending in the right direction.”
The Auburn plant is also among the sites being evaluated to produce fuel nozzle injectors for the new GE9X engine under development for the Boeing 777X. In addition, GE Aviation is evaluating locations for establishing additive manufacturing centers to produce components for GE’s new Advanced Turboprop Engine (ATP), which was launched by Cessna in 2015. About 35% of the entire ATP engine will be produced using additive. GE expects to run its first full ATP engine test by the end of 2017 in Europe.
Powder-bed additive manufacturing involves taking a digital design from computer aided design (CAD) software and melting/sintering together in a layer-by-layer manner, using either a laser or an electron beam as the energy source. Additive components are typically lighter and more durable than traditional forged parts because they require less welding and machining. Because additive parts are essentially “grown” from the ground up, they generate far less scrap material. Freed of traditional manufacturing restrictions, additive manufacturing dramatically expands the design possibilities for engineers.
GE is a leading end user and innovator in the additive manufacturing space. GE has invested approximately $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies at GE’s Global Research Center (GRC), and has developed additive applications across six GE businesses, created new services applications across the company, and earned 346 patents in powder metals used for the additive process.
"We have invested years in proving out this technology for critical components in the heart of the engine," said Greg Morris, Strategy/Growth Leader for GE Additive. "Now we are well positioned to apply this technology to other components in the same harsh environment which could prove to be game changing for future engine programs and designs."
Additive manufacturing is a key part of GE’s evolution into a digital industrial company and will leverage the Predix platform as part of GE’s Brilliant Factory initiative.
About GE Additive
GE Additive is part of GE (NYSE: GE), the world’s Digital Industrial Company, transforming industry with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive and predictive. GE is organized around a global exchange of knowledge, the "GE Store," through which each business shares and accesses the same technology, markets, structure and intellect. Visit GE Additive at www.geadditive.com
GE Additive is led by David Joyce, GE Vice Chairman and CEO of GE Aviation, an operating unit of GE and a world-leading provider of jet engines, components and integrated systems for commercial and military aircraft. For more information, visit us at www.geaviation.com.