3D Printing

3D Printing, Now With More Jet Engine Parts

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3D printing
GE/Avio

Home hobbyists will likely be confined to 3D-printing objects out of plastic for a few years to come, but the technology moves forward in leaps and bounds. Avio, an Italian engineering firm which is part of GE Aviation, has developed a new printing process that makes objects strong enough to be used as jet engine turbine blades. The new process is a step beyond the laser sintering that produced a headline-grabbing Model 1911 semiautomatic pistol last year.

From GE:

Engineers at the Italian aerospace company Avio have developed a breakthrough process for 3D printing light-weight metal blades for jet engine turbines.

The method builds the blades from a titanium powder fused with a beam of electrons accelerated by a 3-kilowatt electron gun.

The gun is 10 times more powerful than laser beams currently used for printing metal parts. This boost in power allows Avio, which is part of GE Aviation, to build blades from layers of powder that are more than four times thicker than those used by laser-powered 3D printers. 

As a result, one machine can produce eight stage 7 blades for the low pressure turbine that goes inside the GEnx jet engine in just 72 hours. "This is very competitive with casting, which is how we used to make them," says Mauro Varetti, advanced manufacturing engineer at Avio.

The Electron Beam Melting process which was developed along with Arcam, a Swedish firm, has the added advantage of allowing aerospace manufacturers to use titanium aluminide, wich allows for strong engine parts 20 percent lighter than those made with traditional alloys. Other techniques for working with the stuff apparently result all too often in fragile scrap.

Jet engine fuel nozzles are next on the list of items to be 3D printed (those will be made in Alabama), with other parts to come.

Again, this isn't hobbyist technology, and won't be for years to come (if ever). But as evidence of how far 3D printing technology is pushing the business of manufacturing and creating improved processes and products, this is pretty impressive.

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  1. a new printing process that makes objects strong enough to be used as jet engine turbine blades

    Wowsers. This is getting interesting.

  2. I thought they used Nickle for those because of the high heat. Not an expert.

  3. IN the late 1980s, autocad was not a “hobbyist” technology. It took a mainframe to run it and the programs cost a fortune. Now I could run such on my phone.

    I am pretty sure 3d printing will be a hobbyist technology sooner rather than later. The next step is for it to become a consumer technology. I don’t think we are that far from auto repair places just printing out the parts they need rather than having them shipped from a warehouse.

    1. It took a mainframe to run it and the programs cost a fortune. Now I could run such on my phone.

      I am pretty sure 3d printing will be a hobbyist technology sooner rather than later.

      Do you know anyone who uses autocad on their phone?

      1. No. but my phone could and that is the point.

        1. No. but my phone could and that is the point.

          So the point isn’t if the technology is actually utilized or consumed in that format, it’s about the potential of being able to use in that format. Gotcha.

          I thought we were talking about pragmatic use in actual markets, not just speculating wildly, my mistake.

          1. I use Autodesk Sketchup on my phone. It’s faster sometimes than trying to explain to people, and I pretty much always have my phone.

            More relevantly, I have 3 CAD packages on my tablet and 2 sets of 3d printer drivers. If I packed up my 3d printer I could literally carry around a rapid protyping setup in a not-very-big box.

            I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the tech is getting better and cheaper. These things used to cost 50K plus, and I spent less than 500 bucks on my printer. 3kW electron gun? Fuck it, I can run that on a 30A circuit out in the garage. This’ll be hobbyist quicker than you think, because all people need to know is that it’s possible.

            1. 3kW electron gun? Fuck it, I can run that on a 30A circuit out in the garage.

              I was wondering if you could run that on a home electrical system. Thanks. That is amazing.

              1. Kilowatts always sound cool to the uninitiated. You know what’s 1.5kW? A hair dryer. So can you run 2 hair dryers in your house?

                1. At the same time?

                  1. You’d have a job running both on one 15 or 20 amp circuit, as I have found out in the past. (Note to builders: bathrooms need to be on separate circuits for precisely this reason.) But other than that it shouldn’t be a problem.

                    1. Yeah, that was the joke.

                      We tried last winter running a heater and a mini-fridge on the same circuit in our* new sunroom last winter. It worked as well as you would expect.

                      *technically, just hers at the time

            2. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the tech is getting better and cheaper.

              Fabrication or “3D” fabrication? Because you sound like a “3D!” zealot.

              3kW electron gun? Fuck it, I can run that on a 30A circuit out in the garage.

              I don’t disagree. I can do the same, you know how many people I interact with on a daily basis who consider resetting a breaker home repair?

              This’ll be hobbyist quicker than you think, because all people need to know is that it’s possible.

              My point isn’t that it isn’t or won’t be hobbyist. People practice diets of sunlight as a hobby. My point is that it won’t be anything other than a somewhat exclusive hobby and isn’t exactly revolutionizing any industries (at least nowhere near the ‘unlimited-customizability’/’second industrial revolution’ hype I’m exposed to here and elsewhere).

              It’s like discovering a new way to make sausage and getting excited that suddenly everyone and their sister will be making sausage in their own homes or running out to their local butcher shops to order up their custom sausage. Yes, some of it is an improvement, but lots of it is giving more people more shit to *not* care about (as if we don’t have enough already).

              1. Fabrication in general is getting cheaper. You can buy small CNC machines now for next to nothing, where before they weren’t available at all.

                Yes, it gives the vast majority of people more shit to not care about. But it gives the last .1% a way to bring something into the world they couldn’t before. Might be crap, might be wonderful. We won’t know until we bring the cost down enough.

                It’s like printing. WHen everything had to be hand copied by scribes, we didn’t have the options available we do now. I’m in favor of more options for more people, and cheaper fabrication helps drive that.

                1. It’s like printing.

                  This is what drives me nuts. It’s not like printing unless you mean the literal version where it was invented by the Chinese in the early 1000s and then ‘discovered’ by the Europeans in the 1400s and still mostly unused by the 40% of the world’s population that was illiterate up to about 1970.

                  I will concede that in 2170, 3D printing could be ubiquitous assuming it hasn’t been entirely obviated by telekinetic fabrication or FTL material distribution and arrangement.

                  I’m in favor of more options for more people, and cheaper fabrication helps drive that.

                  It’s not cheaper, it’s approaching competitiveness in a higly-advanced/niche application and you’ve made it pretty clear that you’re in favor of more options for more people whether they want them or not. It’s not the advancement application or more options part that invokes my ire.

    2. Then it’ll turn into an IP/tech data issue which makes things…interesting.

  4. As a result, one machine can produce eight stage 7 blades for the low pressure turbine that goes inside the GEnx jet engine in just 72 hours.

    Yes, but how long does it take to make a blade for the Millenial jet engine?

    1. Reason/Rue should do a poll!

      1. Ekins is on it.

        1. And I’m on her

  5. “A 3-kilowatt electron gun.”

    “Hey, just what you see pal.”

    1. You sure know your tools! You’ll have to wait three days on the soldering guns, but…. hey, you can’t turn that on in here…!

  6. This is very competitive with casting, which is how we used to make them

    The 3kW electron gun, and the vacuum tech to support it, puts/keeps *3D* metal handling well outside of the realm of all but the most zealous hobbyist.

    While metal casting continues to use such advance technologies as, fire, sand, dirt, clay. I’m not saying I’d fly on a home-built plane over this one, but extrapolating this to DIY 3D prototyping is silly. They might as well have just said 3D parts were fabricated using the LHC. Ferrari’s technology and know how is more accessible than this.

    1. While metal casting continues to use such advance technologies as, fire, sand, dirt, clay.

      Mmmhmm. Modern investment casting is a wee bit more complicated than that.

      As far as zealous hobbyists, the first generation has to be zealous. After that, everybody copies.

      1. Mmmhmm. Modern investment casting is a wee bit more complicated than that.

        And the 3D electron-gun based printing is a wee bit more complicated than just running a 30A circuit to the garage and installing the drivers on your phone tablet, but I guess hyping technology is only cool or allowed if it’s new technology that hardly anybody knows anything about (as opposed to the old technology that hardly anybody knows anything about).

        As far as zealous hobbyists, the first generation has to be zealous. After that, everybody copies.

        No, everybody does not, that’s the point. There are some people who dabble, as a hobby. Most are content to buy a Ferrari or Ford (or Benelli, S&W, Dell, Apple, etc.) and leave it as is. Some/many are content to buy mass-produced after-market parts and upgrades. A few are content to buy custom-made parts upgrades. Very few desire to make custom-made parts and even fewer are content doing so. Just because you build/make/discover it does not mean they will come. 3D is not the end of capitalism as we know it.

      2. phone tablet

  7. I was really happy to see it was an Italian company–not because I’m crazy about Italy or anything but because this company is still able to do great things despite the precarious state of the country’s government. It makes me feel more optimistic.

    1. I was apprehensive, myself. Words I don’t really want to see in the same sentence are “Italian engineering” and “jet engines”.

      Much relieved to see the Swedes pitched in.

  8. So airplanes will be flying into the third dimension now? Get ready for a lot more Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s.

    1. Well, we’ll always have high speed rail..

    2. I hope they have always been flying in 3 dimensions.

    3. Get ready for a lot more Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s.

      Considering MH17’s flight path, I’d suggest we don’t have 2D entirely mastered.

  9. Not too suprising the Italians would come up with something like this. This way they can run the 3D printers while everyone’s on their month long government mandated vacation every July and keep productivity up somewhat.

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