GE Aviation has announced it will open a new $100 million assembly plant in Indiana, USA, to build the world’s first passenger jet engine with fuel nozzles produced by Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) technology. The company stated that additively manufactured fuel nozzles will be used in its new LEAP engine, a joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma, which will enter service in 2016 and already has 6000 confirmed orders valued at $78 billion.
The new plant will be based in Lafayette, Indiana, and will employ around 200 people by 2020. GE will operate an advanced assembly line equipped with automated vision inspection systems, radio frequency parts management and other new technologies designed to improve production.
Each LEAP engine has 19 additively manufactured fuel nozzles which are five times more durable than the previous model. Additive Manufacturing allowed engineers to use a simpler design that reduced the number of brazes and welds from 25 to just five.
GE also reported that the engine incorporates a number of next-generation materials including heat-resistant ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) and breakthrough carbon fibre fan blades woven in all three dimensions at once. The CMC parts help with weight and heat management. They are two-thirds lighter than the metal equivalent and can operate at temperatures 20% higher than their metallic counterpart, at levels when most alloys grow soft.
“When you start thinking about design, the weight savings multiplier effect is much more than three to one,” stated Michael Kauffman, GE Aviation Manufacturing Executive. “Your nickel alloy turbine disc does not have to be so beefy to carry all those light blades, and you can slim down the bearings and other parts too because of a smaller centrifugal force. It’s just basic physics.”
The new technologies allowed the design team to cut the engine’s weight by hundreds of pounds compared to the same size engine built using metal parts, increase the internal temperature and make it more efficient. “We are pushing ahead in materials technology, which gives us the ability to make jet engines lighter, run them hotter, and cool them less,” Kauffman added. “As result, we can make the engines, and the planes they’ll power, more efficient and cheaper to operate.”
The LEAP engine has benefited from GE’s $1 billion annual investment in jet propulsion R&D. Scientists at GE Global Research have spent the last two decades developing some of the most advanced parts of the new engine, including CMCs, Additive Manufacturing methods and controls systems.