GE Aviation and Sigma Labs Inc. have signed an Additive Manufacturing Cooperative Agreement. They plan to jointly develop technology that will inspect their 3D printed jet parts while they are being made.
According to GE's Greg Morris, "Today, post-build inspection procedures account for as much as 25% of the time required to produce an additively manufactured engine component. By conducting those inspection procedures while the component is being built, GE Aviation and Sigma Labs will expedite production rates for GE's additive manufactured engine components like the LEAP fuel nozzle."
Each LEAP engine requires nineteen metal fuel nozzles, and those nozzles are all going to be additively manufactured. Prior to this development, the nozzles were meticulously brazed together out of 21 tiny, separate pieces. Thanks to additive manufacturing technology each fuel nozzle is up to 25 percent lighter and five-times more durable than non-printed versions.
The additive manufacturing process involves taking digital designs from computer aided design (CAD) software and laying horizontal cross-sections to manufacture the part. The process creates the layered cross-sections using a laser beam to melt the raw material.
This is not simple prototyping, the manufactured parts will eventually be mass produced and put directly into service. At that point, quality control becomes paramount to consumer safety. The new technology from Sigma Labs and GE will monitor the parts while they are being built, eliminating the need for post-production inspections.
Mark Cola, president and CEO of Sigma Labs, states, "We are pleased to have signed the agreement and to begin the next phase in demonstrating our PrintRite3D technology for additive manufacturing of metal parts. Together, we will be focusing our efforts in working to assure the build quality and as-built repeatability of additively manufactured aircraft engine components, thereby ensuring predictable materials properties critical to successful product commercialization."
Sigma's PrintRite3D is designed to give engineers microstructural control during additive manufacturing, offering unique quality control capabilities.
By 2020, GE Aviation estimates that it will produce more than 100,000 additive manufactured components for the LEAP and GE9X engines, and they've already got more than 4,500 orders waiting to be filled. The newest engine model, the LEAP-1B, is scheduled for ground testing this September.