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The Finest Print: GE Challenges Innovators to Design Jet Engine Parts, Print in 3D Complex Healthcare Components

Many people still struggle with the idea of “printing” things by adding one layer of material on top of another, but Michael Idelchik, who runs GE’s advanced technologies research, is already talking about “printing large portions of jet engines.”

GE Aviation, for example, is using lasers to print fuel nozzles for next-generation jet engines. The nozzles are 25 percent lighter and as much as five times more durable than the existing model welded from 20 different parts. “We already know that it can be done, we’ve been playing with it for a while,” Idelchik says. “Now we want to develop an ecosystem of designers, engineers, materials scientists, and other partners who can learn with us. We have a number of products that we are going to be launching and we want to challenge people to get into business with us. If the ecosystem grows, the entire industry will grow.”

GE asked participants to “completely re-imagine” the bracket, which supports critical jet engine components during handling, and make it 30 percent lighter.

Idelchik is serious. GE just announced a pair of global “additive manufacturing quests” challenging innovators and entrepreneurs to design a light-weight bracket and hangers for a jet engine, and to produce complex parts for healthcare.

The first contest, called 3D Printing Design Quest, asks participants to “completely reimagine” the bracket and hangers, which support critical jet engine components during handling, and make them 30 percent lighter. “You need to understand software and creative design, the unique properties of the printing machines, and meet the functional requirements of the parts like strength and the ability to handle vibrations,” Idelchik says. “If we can make a relatively simple part like the bracket so much lighter, imagine what you could do with complex parts. We would like to see some of the people who enter the challenge to become our suppliers as we launch new products.”

GE and its partner, GrabCAD, will manufacture and test the top 10 designs and the winners will receive $1,000 each. The eight designs that perform the best in tests will divide an additional $20,000 prize pool.

The second quest, called 3-D Printing Production Quest: High Precision and Advanced Manufacturing, asks participants to use 3-D printing to manufacture “highly precise and complex parts” for healthcare. The top 10 entrants will receive $5,000 each and an invite to produce the parts from materials of GE’s choosing. GE and its partner, Nine Sigma, will then select up to three winners who will receive up to $50,000 each. “You have the material, you need a design and a machine that integrates the material, and then you need to control the machine to produce the part,” Idelchik says.

Idelchik says that the time is right for 3-D printing. “How this ecosystem will develop will define how far additive manufacturing will go,” he says. “I believe that we will get some outstanding participants with breakthrough ideas who will like to start a business.”

Detailed information about the challenges and how to enter is available here.

This is not the first GE challenge. Previous GE quests focused on reducing flight delays and improving the patient experience in hospital.

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