Thursday, 25 June 2015

Manufacturing Renaissance: Ubiquitous Instant Production (Part-VIII)
Future: General Electric’s Goal to Rapid Print an Entire Engine.

The Aerospace industry is one of the most complex technically, and dare I say material intensive industries in the world. Notwithstanding the onerous systems qualification and certification standards, the demands on material science and manufacturing capabilities is by far the most challenging (I’ve qualified kit to Boeing D1-60 specs). But it seems that RM R&D is now at the take off stage.

Michael Idelchik, head of advanced technologies at GE Global Research is much excited about RM’s future, “One day we hope to print out a complete engine.” Idelchik does not say whether he means a whole working fully integrated high performance jet turbine engine or even the hydrogen powered jet engine now in prototype development. But right at present GE is certainly talking ultra-complex components and sub-assemblies.

Mark Little is senior VP and CTO, GE Global Research Center. He says that GE is stanch to lead the next manufacturing revolution through innovative hardware, material and process advancements. They say that this transformation relies on collaboration with alliance partners and prolific, uncompromising innovators. GE’s goal is to organize and engage this ecosystem in meaningful ways and that takes industry to new heights.

Greg Morris, Strategy and Business Development for Additive Technologies at GE, indicates that he is always looking for innovative ways to animate great ideas. He is keen to tap the creativity and resources of GrabCAD and NineSigma’s major membership databases. Approaches, such as open source innovation and crowd-sourcing design concepts, are methodologies and strategies GE are accelerating the innovation process in conjunction with RM 3DP

In the medical equipment sector GE is already making headway. One example is a high precision transducer that sends and receives ultra-sound signal pulses that pick-up data to produce images from inside the human body. The gizmo contains micro-scale piezoelectronic structures constructed by machining tough blocks of ultra-fine-grain ceramic. The process is slow, expensive and painstaking. Most of all it is expensive. GE has developed an additive RM system that prints the fine tolerance transducer significantly improving price-performance of the device.

In response, GE competitor Rolls Royce are now spearheading a project called MERLIN. The venture’s aim is to reduce the environmental impact of air-transport by means of additive RM by achieving near 100 percent material utilisation in component manufacture. Current ‘buy to fly’ ratios result in massive amounts of waste, along with toxic chemical solvents and expensive component tooling. RM will drastically reduce emissions across the life-cycle of aerospace components. Light-weighting and performance improvement of parts will result in reduced fuel consumption and reduced emissions. The strategy is to develop high-value, disruptive AM technologies capable of step changes in manufacturing performance which uphold interests in the aerospace engine manufacturing field.

And if you think about – and I hazard a guess – if one looks, at say, a complete airborne worthy commercial long-haul aircraft today, a lot of material has had to be subtracted to make each component that make-up the whole craft! One wonders how much? I wonder if a whole (or two) aircraft is either in the recycle-bin, or landfill, or even gas polluting our fresh air?

GE’s grasp on additive manufacturing is part of its sustained hegemony in advanced manufacturing. GE is the world’s largest user of RM technologies, especially in metals, with a comprehensive, high investment additive manufacturing facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a universal team of 600 engineers, across 21 sites.

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