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OM in the News: GE’s Engines and Additive Manufacturing

April 18, 2015
The GE90 is a family of turbofan engines built for the Boeing 777 long range wide-body aircraft

The GE90 is a family of turbofan engines built for the Boeing 777 long range wide-body aircraft

I don’t often share articles from American Machinist, but this one on General Electric’s development of a new generation of jet engines (April 15, 2015) struck close to home. My 2nd job out of college was at this very plant near Cincinnati, where I worked as a designer for the massive CF-6 engine, back in the early 1970s. (My 1st job was actually as an engineer at McDonnell Douglas, in St. Louis, on the design team for the DC-10–which used the CF-6).

Now, 45 years later, GE reports that its GE90 will be the first of its commercial jet engines to be manufactured with a housing component produced by additive manufacturing. The GE90, the world’s largest turbofan engine, was the first jet engine to incorporate composite fiber polymeric material on its front fan blades when it was introduced 20 years ago. Additive manufacturing is quickly gaining acceptance in jet engine production, for its design flexibility, material selection, and production cost advantages.

The term refers to various production methods, including stereolithography for polymer materials. GE is using laser-powered 3-D printers, 3-D “inking” and “painting” machines, and other advanced manufacturing tools, to make parts and products that were thought impossible to produce and which sometimes verge on art. It has also been in the forefront of companies adopting additive manufacturing for high-volume production. “Additive manufacturing has allowed GE engineers to quickly change the geometry through rapid prototyping and producing production parts, saving months of traditional cycle time without impacting capabilities,” says the GE program manager.

GE’s production rates for jet engines and components are setting new records for volumes: Its total backlog for jet engines exceeds 15,000 units, representing more than $135 billion for equipment and services.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What is additive manufacturing and why is it important to GE?

2. What is stereolithography?

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