GE Aviation has projected cost savings of 35% after switching the production of four land/marine turbine bleed air parts from casting to metal 3D printing.

The aerospace company worked with GE Additive to additively manufacture the four bleed air components, with the cost savings expected to be enough to retire the old casting moulds forever. Harnessing 3D printing, GE Aviation also saw significant time reductions through the conversion process, getting to a final prototype inside ten months, where as it has previously taken between 12 and 18 months when developing turbine parts.

As they look to step up their application of the technology for land/marine turbine parts, they have already identified ‘scores of other parts on a variety of engines’ as potential additive parts.

“This is a game-changer,” commented GE Aviation Additive Manufacturing Leader Eric Gatlin. “This is the first time we did a part-for-part replacement, and it was cheaper doing it with additive than casting. To make sure we demonstrated cost competitiveness, we had four outside vendors quote the parts and we still came in lower with additive manufacturing.”

GE Aviation has a rich history in applying additive manufacturing technology, consolidating 20 parts into for its LEAP engine fuel nozzle tip and 855 parts into ten for its new turboprop engine. These success stories has led the company to deploy 3D printing technology on the LM9000 land/marine turbine, which has been derived from the GE90 turbojet and is being built for Baker Hughes, another renowned user of additive manufacturing.

Starting early last year after GE Aviation’s annual audit of castings and an evaluation of the 3D printers it had at its disposal, the project had identified 180 cast parts for which they thought 3D printing could save money. These included low-volume replacement parts and production-volume components for new programmes like the LM9000 engine.

As the pandemic hit, GE Aviation was able to turn its focus to other projects at its additive production facility in Auburn, AL, where parts for other GE Aviation engines are typically made. Narrowing down the number of parts that had passed through initial screening and additional analysis, the team at Auburn focused on parts that could fit inside a Concept Laser M2 machine and would return significant cost savings. The four parts they would proceed to additively manufacture were adapter caps for the LM9000’s bleed air system.

All four parts measure around 3.5 inches in diameter and 6 inches in height. They were printed in Cobalt-chrome to ensure they could handle the hot compressed air from the turbine’s compressor section. The four parts, which were one-to-one replacements with no redesign or part consolidation, were printed within the same build. Simulation and analysis showed them to replicate the performance of the cast parts, while test bars were built with each print to allow for the integrity of each production run to be measured. GE Aviation and GE Additive believe the project to be a major success.

“The thing that stuck out to me was that we could take an existing casting design, replicate it quickly on our printers, and within weeks of starting the project, the final parts were the same quality as their cast counterparts,” offered Jeff Eschenbach, a Senior Project Manager and Project Lead at GE Aviation’s Auburn facility. “This project serves as a template for future work.”

“From a business perspective, Auburn showed muscle we didn’t have in the past and now we have a bank of parts that we can go after next,” added Kelly Brown, Senior Technical Leader at GE Additive. “What the team has done is remarkable and it really showcases their capabilities.”

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