At this year’s Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS), Kirk Rogers – the Technology Leader at GE Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA) – revealed some of the ways that GE is utilizing additive technologies in their manufacturing.

Rogers defined the 5 different levels of Additive Manufactured parts categorized by complexity (least complex to most):

Level 0 – Jigs and Fixtures
Level 1 – Components
Level 2 – Subsystems
Level 3 – Functional Integration
Level 4 – Advanced Functionalities (self-assembly, embedded functional electronics, etc.)

Rogers had a strong belief that manufacturing companies of any size should be experimenting with jigs and fixtures (level 0). He explained, “Just like lean manufacturing is a mindset change, additive is a mindset change as well.” He would go on to provide the following examples of how GE currently uses additive manufacturing technologies:


1. Casting Molds

(Image courtesy of the author.)

“Our transportation business was having problems with a mining truck customer, which was complaining that one of the fans on their trucks was too loud,” Rogers explained. “We immediately went to work redesigning it, and used 3D sand printing—binder jetting—to print casting molds, and we made the first few of these in just six weeks.” Traditional methods of manufacturing molds would have taken around 6 months, compared to that 6 week wait time using 3D printing.


2. Prototype Parts for Production

(Image courtesy of the author.)

“This is an example from a company that was working on a part with Youngstown University for an injection mold tool,” said Rogers. “The customer needed a small volume—50 sets of tools—so they compared conventional molding with 3D printed molds…If you’re a start-up and you just need to make a first round of parts to test the market, 3D printed plastic molds for injection molding is very simple to do, and you can recycle the models when you’re done.” 3D printing the molds cost a mere fraction – at $57.90 – compared to the cost of conventionally made molds – $179.90.

3. Sub-Scale Turbine Blade Mold

(Image courtesy of the author.)

“This was created by Oakridge National Lab,” explained Rogers. “By 3D printing the tools, they reduced tooling costs by 50 percent and reduced the total manufacturing costs for this demonstrator by 20 percent, and we haven’t even talked about the lead time reduction.” This tool would have cost millions of dollars if made with traditionally manufactured parts.

4. Dishwasher Components

(Image courtesy of the author.)

“Imagine if, instead of being mass-market, dishwashers were customizable,” Rogers said, as he displayed an injection molded part and a 3D printed part. “The only difference is that the 3D-printed one cost less at reasonable volumes.” These parts are considered to be of level 1 classification.

5. Housing for Compressor Inlet Temperature Sensor

“After the GE 90 engines were in service—we had about 400—they were starting to show a problem with the temperature sensor icing on polar routes,” Rogers explained. “We wanted to put a solution in our customers’ hands as soon as possible. So, instead of making two investment castings and figuring out how to machine them and put them together, we printed the part using additive. Doing that reduced the lead time and the manufacturing time, while increasing reliability.” The GE 90 engines which the Rogers mentions (shown above) feature the first ever 3D printed part to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

6. Heat Exchangers

GE was able to 3D print an aviation heat exchanger which ultimately reduced the number of parts from 242 to 1. “It’s 30 percent smaller, it has 25 percent better performance and it’s a little bit cheaper,” Rogers said. ““What if the heat exchanger at the front of your car didn’t define the shape of the front of your car?” Rogers questioned. “What could a car look like?” The heat exchanger that GE produced is classified under level 2.

7. ATP Engine

(Image courtesy of GE.)

GE got into level 3, utilizing additive manufacturing technology in their ATP engines. This helped them cutting the testing schedule for the combustor in half – from a year 6 months. Additive manufacturing also greatly reduced the part count. Rogers explained, “855 parts were taken out during the redesign, and replaced with just 12 additive parts. Think about that: wouldn’t you like to be the supplier for one of those 12 parts?” Additive manufacturing also helped to reduce the weight 5%. However, the greatest feat they achieved by integrating additive manufacturing technology was the impressive increase in fuel efficiency. “They were able to get 20 percent lower fuel,” said Rogers. “Airlines will pay a billion dollars for a one-percent reduction, and they got 20 percent in just one engine redesign.”

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