3-D Printing Blasts Off,
Explodes Into the Future
In 2013, battle lines were drawn. Two stark competitors were looking to speed repairs and cut costs on parts for gas turbines. First to the drawing board was GE, who started using 3-D printing technology at its Global
Research Center in Niskayuna, N. Y., to produce more than 85,000 fuel
nozzles for its anticipated LEAP engine technology. Feeling the competition, Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery AB, Finspang, Sweeden, quickly
sought to use the technique to produce spare parts for its line of gas turbines.
How did this battle end? Who came out on top? The answer: EOS GmbH,
Munich, a company founded by Dr. Hans J. Langer and Dr. Hans Steinbi-chler that manufactures 3-D printers based on laser sintering techniques.
However, the outcome was bright for both companies as well.
In November 2014, GE released a video of an engineer at the company
using an EOS M 270 3-D printer to redesign a radio-controlled engine using
the direct metal laser sintering technique. After testing their creation in an
aviation test chamber, the parts were able to achieve speeds of up to 33,000
RPMs. And in June 2014, GE Aviation opened a new assembly plant in Indiana to build the world’s first passenger jet engine (LEAP) with 3-D printed
fuel nozzles and next-generation materials. Estimated to enter service on the
Airbus A320neo in 2016, the engine has already become GE Aviation’s best-selling engine, with more than 6,000 confirmed orders from 20 countries,
valued at more than $78 billion.
For Siemens, the challenge lied in reducing maintenance costs of their gas turbines, which range in performance from 15 to 60 MW. During the operation of
gas turbines, the engine’s hot gas path is exposed to high temperatures, at times
in excess of 1,000 C. This, in turn, leads to a high level of wear on the hot gas
path components, especially the burner tip. The conventional repair procedure
required prefabrication of sections of the burner tip, which was time consuming and a great expense. To lower the time spent and money invested, Siemens
invested in an EOSINT M 280 metal laser sintering system, which the company
uses for many applications and aids in the longevity of their engines.
Whether it be to cut costs, enhance speed and time to market or just tinkering, 3-D printing is giving companies a competitive edge and hobbyists something to blog. From aerospace to medical technology, this form of additive
manufacturing is now a standard practice for most product design models.
1- 2-3 blast off
3-D printing isn’t just a commodity on Earth, it’s now also a commodity
in space. In November 2014, the first 3-D printer in space created its first
object, albeit self-fulfilling, a replacement faceplate for the printer’s casing
that holds its internal wiring in place. In September 2014, SpaceX’s Dragon
capsule shot to the International Space Station (ISS) with supplies and a 3-D
printer created by Made In Space, a Moffett Field, Calif.-based company that
develops additive manufacturing technologies for use in the space environment. This faceplate is one of about 20 objects that was printed on the ISS
over a few weeks of the printer’s space landing.
Made In Space’s Zero-G printer is the first 3-D printer designed to operate in zero gravity. The initial version of this printer is serving as a test bed
for understanding the long-term effects of microgravity on 3-D printing,
and how it can enable the future of space exploration. The printer was built
under a joint partnership between NASA MSC and Made In Space.
Not only is there now a 3-D printer in space, but one of the main industries seeking the technique is aerospace. From the GE and Siemens examples, 3-D printing has been used in the design of jet engines since 2013. But
its reach is further than engines, spanning now into satellites and other such
One of the most important considerations for aerospace projects is produc-ing strong, durable parts while minimizing overall weight. “For complex parts
Image of EOS M 400 direct metal laser sintering 3-D printer.
Image of the 3-D printed phased array supports for the FORMOSAT- 7 COSMIC- 2 satellite
mission. Image: RedEye
Since its onset in 1985, 3-D printing has allowed for
game-changing benefits in manufacturing methods and
practices and industry.