The company announced this month that they are investing $50 million to create a 3D printing production facility in Auburn, Alabama.
This new facility will be used to print over 100,000 fuel nozzles for the $75 billion worth of orders that have been placed for the company’s next-generation jet engines that are scheduled to start flying in commercial airliners in 2016.
3D printing / additive manufacturing reduces material waste and aerospace has typically had over 94% wastage of expensive materials like titanium. Design freedom allows for improved mathematically-driven designs that are lighter weight and have functional advantages such as better wear and complicated multi-component parts that previously required assembly can be 3D printed as a single object. According to GE Aviation, their new 3D printed fuel nozzles are 25% lighter, last five times longer than their predecessors and no longer require any assembly.
Combined with other technological advantages GE aims to improve engine fuel efficiency by 15%. This will equate to worldwide savings of $40 billion per year in fuel costs by 2020. Other companies in the aerospace sector are following suit. However, the adoption of 3D printing for the manufacture of production parts in a stringently-regulated sector like aerospace is not without issue.
According the NASA, the point-wise nature of 3D printing is a continuous source of potential defects. GE had to pioneer the development of new forms of non-destructive testing and inspection to ensure the safety and reliability of their 3D printed parts.