An Additive Breakthrough in Aviation
GE’s focus is evolving. We are looking to innovations like additive manufacturing to disrupt processes, increase efficiencies and better compete in markets.
This approach has already had an impact in Aviation. First, we introduced a 3D-printed fuel nozzle for the LEAP engine developed by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines. Comprising one component instead of 20, it was less complex and easier to assemble than the part it replaced. Then, a team of six engineers spent 18 months reproducing a small a-CT7 helicopter engine. Going from 905 components to 16 parts, the 3D-printed materials were 40% lighter and 60% less expensive than what had been used before.
Disrupt processes to better compete in aviation space
The a-CT7 engineering team
“We took six engineers and told them go and see what portion of the the total engine you can print.”
Head of GE Additive
Now, we are bringing that disruption to the Business and General Aviation Turboprop market.
We entered the space in 2008, with the purchase of Walter Engines. The segment had long been dominated by a single engine-maker, and the pace of change, as GE learned from customers, was slow at best.
A new turboprop engine developed through advances in additive manufacturing
We initially focused on building strong relationships and helping customers see what was possible. We took technologies proven over billions of hours on large commercial engines and scaled them down for the turboprop. We also introduced additive manufacturing, building on the takeaways from the a-CT7 work.
GE’s efforts first bore fruit in 2015,when we announced that our new Advanced Turboprop (ATP) engine would power Textron Aviation’s Cessna Denali. The occasion marked the first clean-sheet design turboprop to be introduced to market in 30 years. This got people’s attention.
Growing marketshare in the Business and General Aviation Turboprop market
For the ATP, the additive manufacturing process enabled engineers to take 855 components and reduce them to 12 parts, radically reducing the brackets and joints that cause wear and tear, while also limiting leakage. Additionally, the simpler design reduced the weight of the engine by 100 pounds while helping it deliver 10% more power at altitude, 20% more range, and a 15% lower mission fuel burn than previous engines in its class.
And, if all of this wasn’t already enough, the new engine will also dramatically ease pilot workload. Unlike earlier engines, which required multiple levers to operate, the ATP uses a single-lever Full Authority Digital Engine and Propeller Control (FADEPC), enabling a more “jet-like” flying experience.
“You are essentially allowing the pilot to focus on higher-level tasks… The system can make flying as simple as pushing a lever, and pilots love it.”
General Manager of the Advanced Turboprop program.
The Advanced Turboprop:
Stronger, More Durable and Cleaner
The ATP engine is clearly a game-changer. Additive manufacturing has helped largely eliminate the trade-offs between weight and cost, enabling air-framers to design for what is important to them. It has also transformed the supply chain. Forgings, castings and other traditional processes are less vital than they were in the past. Finally, the ATP will provide GE a competitive advantage for years to come. The disruptive nature of additive manufacturing has already enabled the product team to deliver the engine’s first run 30% faster than any other GE engine programs to date. Expectations are high that this is not the last record the ATP engine will break.