In a test, General Electric’s aviation division is to use 3D printing technology to produce a complex fuel nozzle for use in jet engines.
As The International Business Times reports, this may prove to be the first big test of using 3D printing to mass-produce high-performance products. If successful, it could have a major impact on manufacturing.
Traditionally, the nozzle would be manufactured using standard casting and welding techniques. It is hoped that ‘additive manufacturing’ will prove to be cheaper, faster and less wasteful.
The nozzles will be built by adding ultrathin layers of material one by one. GE machines will shoot laser beams into a bed of cobalt-chromium powder, melting it into individual layers of metal which are just 20 micrometers thick.
Without the use of this technique, the only way to manufacture the part is to weld 20 small pieces together. This results in a lot of waste.
It is hoped that, by using the 3D printing technique, waste will be reduced and costs cut. In addition, the components will be lighter and therefore yield fuel savings.
The benefits of lights-out-manufacturing also come into play. Machines will be able to run all night and it is hoped that production times will be dramatically cut.
GE will need to produce 25,000 of the nozzles per year over the next three years. The company plans to put 10 to 20 nozzles on each engine. They would be added to planes in late 2015 or early 2016.