General Electric subsidiary GE Additive has announced the ongoing two-year development of a large laser-powder additive manufacturing (AM) machine with a build envelope of one cubic metre capable of producing aircraft parts. The machine will be unveiled at Formnext this November in Frankfurt, Germany.
By 2020, GE Aviation will be manufacturing well in excess of 100,000 parts via additive manufacturing for the CFM Leap engine. (Credit: GE Aviation)
Additive components are typically lighter, more durable and more efficient than traditional casting and forged parts, requiring fewer welds and joints, and less assembly. They also generate far less waste material and provide an opportunity for engineers to dramatically expand design possibilities. Additive manufacturing could therefore bring a wide range of benefits to aerospace.
‘The [new] machine will 3D print aviation parts that are one metre in diameter, suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft,’ explained Mohammad Ehteshami, vice president and general manager of GE Additive. ‘The machine will also be applicable for manufacturers in the automotive, power, and oil and gas industries.’
The initial technology demonstrator ‘ATLAS’ is a laser-powder machine that is 'metre-class' in at least two directions. The GE team has been developing the machine over the past two years, having built several proof-of-concept machines in the process. The demonstrator builds upon GE’s technology and German AM systems expert Concept Laser's expertise in laser additive manufacturing.
Concept Laser was recently acquired by GE and currently has the largest laser-powder bed AM machine on the market with a build envelope of 800 x 400 x 500mm, according to GE. The company also recently signed a Letter of Intent with French aeronautical company LAUAK to launch an alliance between the two entities. Lauak will invest in Concept Laser’s additive machines while Concept Laser will work closely with Lauak to implement additive processes and design new products.
For the new cubic metre production version of the additive machine, the build geometry will be customisable and scalable for an individual customer's project. According to GE Additive, its feature resolution and build-rate speeds will equal or better today's additive machines. It is also designed to be used with a range of both non-reactive and reactive materials (such as aluminium and titanium).
‘We have customers collaborating with us and they will receive beta versions of the machine by the year's end,’ Ehteshami said. ‘The production version (yet to be named) will be available for purchase next year.’ GE is targeting first deliveries of the new machine in late 2018.
GE Additive now operates across a number of industries in addition to aerospace. The company recently entered into a partnership with medical technology firm Stryker, agreeing to support its growth in additive manufacturing through providing new additive machines, materials and services.
Overall GE has invested approximately $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies at its Global Research Center (GRC) over the past 10 years, and has developed additive applications across six of its businesses.