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3D Printing the GE logo
GE Aviation got serious about 3D printing last month as they announced their GrabCAD Challenge encouraging participants to design a new bracket for their jet engines. GE Aviation have been experimenting with 3D printing for some time now and because of its successful trials other GE businesses are taking up additive manufacturing.
GE Power and Water who are developing ways to deliver clean and sustainable power and water to the world have jumped head first into 3D printing with a new SLS machine that is five times as powerful as the one the GE Aviation one. We are learning how to use this technology,” says Jon Schaeffer, senior manager for materials and processing engineering for Power and Water. “We’ve got to spread the word and change the design paradigm that metallurgists, designers and manufacturing teams have had for a long time.”
The printer is allowing GE Power and Water to test out prototypes and ideas a lot faster tan traditional manufacturing “We’ve been able to embed new technologies into our components without the messy manufacturing steps normally required,” he says. “We are cutting out months in the development cycle with this technology.”
What has kept GE away from additive manufacturing for so long is the size of prints, the build chambers simply weren’t big enough for them to make the parts they needed but that has all changed. Schaeffer says. “The chamber volume has grown 50 times over the last five years. It’s almost like Moore’s law for 3D printing.”
GE Aviation is already printing nozzles for the next-generation LEAP jet engine. Each nozzle used to made from 18 parts welded together. It is now grown as a single piece that is 25 percent lighter than its predecessor.
David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, says that the technology liberated his business from the limitations of machining. “It gives the designer a whole different palette of colors to paint with, and truly on a whole new canvas,” Joyce says.
Engineers at Power and Water have already used their new machine to design and print a cooling shroud for GE’s latest gas turbine. “There was a time when we could not test new designs and technologies in new parts because we were not able to make them,” Schaeffer says. “3D printing is pointing engineers in the right direction to see if they’ve got a successful concept. It’s really quite exciting.”