This week featured a significant announcement from General Electric, namely that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified a 3D-printed manufactured part to operate within certain GE commercial jet engines.

A blog commentary featured on the GE Reports site indicates that a fist-sized piece of silver metal that houses the compressor inlet temperature sensor inside a jet engine, known as T25, is becoming a symbol of one of the biggest changes sweeping jet engine design. GE Aviation is currently working with Boeing to retrofit more than 400 GE90-94B jet engines with the 3D printed part. This family of engines power Boeing’s 777 commercial aircraft. High resolution photos of these parts are featured in the commentary.

The report further indicates that GE Aircraft has already initiated flight tests for the next-generation LEAP jet engine, produced in a 50-50 consortium with CFM   GE-CFM CFM56 LEAP engineInternational, which will include 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles. The LEAP engine will power Airbus’s newly designed A320neo and Boeing’s 737MAX aircraft models.

The planned GE9X engine will further be developed with 3D-printed fuel nozzles and other parts.

GE was one of the early adopter manufacturer’s that has embraced additive manufacturing methods for nearly a decade. According to GE, additive manufacturing allows design engineers to replace complex assemblies with single parts that are lighter. The use of 3D-printing methods accelerates design development and new product introduction times. Once more, GE is printing parts from materials such a cobalt-chrome alloy. In the case of the GE90 printed nozzle housing, the process from final design to FAA certification and service introduction spans what is described as six months.

In digesting this report, Supply Chain Matters further envisioned that the introduction of such 3D-printed aircraft engine components can significantly benefit both ongoing production as well as operational service parts needs. Instead of stocking global-wide manufacturing or service parts depot inventories, replenishment orders can trigger the printing of an additional part, with considerable inventory cost savings. In some cases, we would envision the part being printed directly at a regional repair and maintenance depot.

Next-generation additive manufacturing methods are indeed beginning to make a presence and the benefits described by global manufacturers such as GE, are indeed described as breakthrough technology.

Bob Ferrari