Bracket ChallengeGE asked participants to “completely reimagine” a jet engine bracket, which supports critical components during handling.
The process of making large-scale 3D printed components is still very much under development, but one expert from General Electric (GE) as already talking about using the technology to print "large portions of jet engines".
Michael Idelchik, who runs GE's advanced technologies research, has stated that he and his colleagues already know this it is possible, so now it is a case of honing the process.
Ohio-headquartered GE Aviation is using lasers to print fuel nozzles for next-generation jet engines. These nozzles are 25 per cent lighter and as much as five times more hard-wearing than the existing model welded from 20 different parts.
"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," Mr Idelchik remarked.
GE recently 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 components for healthcare.
The quests are both open to the public and the first phase commences today (June 11th), ending on July 26th 2013.
The first challenge is called 3D Printing Design Quest and asks participants to "completely reimagine" the way a bracket and hangers should look, as long as they can still support critical jet engine parts during handling. The real test is that those who take part need to try and make the components 30 per cent lighter.
Mr Idelchik explained: "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.
"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 a $1,000 (£643, €753) cash prize. The eight designs that perform the best in tests will win a share of a prize pool of $20,000.
The second challenge is called 3D Printing Production Quest: High Precision and Advanced Manufacturing. Participants are asked to use 3D printing to manufacture "highly precise and complex parts" for healthcare. The top 10 entries will receive $5,000 apiece and an invitation to produce the parts from materials of GE's choosing.
GE and its partner Nine Sigma will then select as many as three winners who could be handed prizes of as much as $50,000 each.
Mr Idelchik noted: "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."
The expert added that the time is right for 3D printing. He said: "How this ecosystem will develop will define how far additive manufacturing will go. 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.