GE Shares Additive Manufacturing Success Stories

An Exclusive Interview with AMazing®

General Electric (GE) has been advancing additive manufacturing  (AM) technologies for over 20 years. Recent events include the launch of two Open Invitation manufacturing quests, that have invited entrepreneurs, companies and institutions to offer their solutions to two challenges; to testing of the LEAP-1A engine, with additively manufactured fuel nozzles.

Continuing the quest for greater insight about additive manufacturing, AMazing® turned to GE.  The search yielded an in-depth interview with two distinguished leaders from GE, Greg Morris and Todd Rockstroh, Ph.D.

As the Business Development Leader for Additive Manufacturing at GE Aviation, Greg Morris develops the roadmap and strategy for additive technologies within GE Aviation. Todd Rockstroh, consulting engineer at GE Aviation, has been with GE Aviation for 27 years and is an award-winning engineer focusing on special process control, laser material processing and smart machining.

GE Aviation-Additive Manufacturing, The Next Industrial Revolution

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AMazing®: Thank you for participating in this interview. With today’s focus on development and scale up of new alloys, processes and parts for additive use, would you briefly share some GE advances?

Greg Morris: GE is indeed working on a number of additive related technology initiatives.  Many relate to moving the technology into the production arena, and one of the areas GE is actively working is in Process Quality Assurance.  The ability to monitor every pixel of what we are building will lead to high confidence in the quality of the parts we make, and is essential in demonstrating that we can build robust parts every time.

We also continue to work with many new alloys, leveraging the inherent benefits of the additive process to build parts in alloys that drive broader applications for a variety of high-end uses.

AMazing®: What makes the aviation industry attractive from an AM standpoint? What happened that transitioned additive from the “research” realm to the “production” realm?

The LEAP-1A on a test stand in Peebles. The engine fired for the first time on Sept. 4, two days ahead of schedule. After a series of break-in runs, the engine was operating smoothly and had reached full take-off thrust.

The LEAP-1A on a test stand in Peebles. The engine fired for the first time on Sept. 4, two days ahead of schedule. After a series of break-in runs, the engine was operating smoothly and had reached full take-off thrust.   (Image Courtesy of GE)

Greg Morris: Additive provides the ability to create geometry that cannot be made any other way.  For the Aerospace industry, additive is particularly attractive because it can create components in materials that are commonly used in Aerospace such as nickel-based alloys, Titanium, etc. and we can make those parts with structures that provide design benefits, such as lattice structures that allow for substantial weight reductions, yet do not compromise the mechanical integrity of the part. The cost and environmental benefits to reducing weight on any flying platform are significant, and additive is a phenomenal tool toward achieving this.

AMazing®: How different is the mindset toward designing a component using conventional manufacturing methods versus AM methods?  Are designers today, taking full advantage of AM capabilities and flexibilities?

Greg Morris: Designing with additive in mind requires thinking much differently.  Additive technologies are another tool that designers and engineers need to consider, and when leveraged appropriately, it can be a very powerful tool.

Additive is fundamentally a different process though, and this requires taking into consideration certain basic design rules.  The interesting part of additive is that it allows our engineers and designers to create in ways they previously were not able to.  This means we are opening up an entirely new paradigm for how to create certain parts and ultimately products.

AMazing®: GE uses among others, direct metal laser melting (DMLM).  Would you briefly describe the DMLM process?  From a materials standpoint, how do the mechanical properties of components manufactured using DMLM compare against conventional cast parts?

GE Fuel Nozzle, Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) (Image Courtesy of GE)

GE Fuel Nozzle, Additively Manufactured Using Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) (Images Courtesy of GE)

Todd Rockstroh: The DMLM process is the use of a focused laser to fuse, layer-by-layer, a three dimensional object.  It is the same as the various industry used terms for additive manufacturing: Selective Laser Melting, Selective Laser Sintering, Direct Metal Laser Sintering.  We chose “melting” as the machines do not technically sinter but overlap a series of fusion welded layers.  The mechanical properties can be generally near-forged and significantly better than cast properties.

AMazing®: It is understood that post-build inspection procedures may 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, the production rates will expedite.  Would you please provide a brief overview to our readers about the inspection process?

Todd Rockstroh: We currently use 100 percent volumetric computed tomography (CT) / digital x-ray inspection on every part produced.  We anticipate going from a volumetric to a gage section CT as we build the statistical confidence in inspecting only certain features on each part. We are also working with the OEMs and others on in-process monitoring.  The challenge will be data management – reduction to useful quality control information.

AMazing®: GE’s next generation aircraft engine will have additive manufactured nozzles? What aspects of the fuel nozzle made it appropriate for additive manufacturing?  What aspects of the nozzle could not have been realized with conventional manufacturing methods?

Todd Rockstroh: Additive manufacturing enabled the unique features incorporated into the fuel nozzle.  These features not only improve performance but allowed (additive) design for extended life and minimizing the overall sequence of operations.  This was a learning curve for both the design engineer and the engineering team that designed the model that drives the machines.

AMazing®: Is it safe to assume we will see metallurgists, inspectors, engineers (materials, standard, manufacturing, and quality), non-destructive testing professionals and others, specializing in additive manufacturing (AM) technologies?  Is there a need for skilled and qualified AM specialists now?

Todd Rockstroh: Yes, there is a near and longer term need for specialized technical skills in all these areas.  There are many innovative engineers and scientists already working with and learning from additive technology.

Several companies, including GE, have placed desktop 3D printers (plastic) throughout their organizations to expose technical and non-technical talent to the design freedom of additive manufacturing.  STEM programs have been launched through various programs.  Universities and Community Colleges have launched first level courses with the intent of creating more disciplined degree tracts.

AMazing®: Is GE involved in any outreach programs or have plans for the future, providing the opportunity for GE engineers and scientists to work with students to learn and experience AM technologies?

Jet Engine Loading Bracket

Jet Engine Loading Bracket   (Image Courtesy of GE)

Greg Morris: GE is very active in such programs already, and in fact has been for many years.  GE partners with academic institutions and other organizations on a regular basis and we believe this is absolutely essential to stay closely connected to the additive ecosystem.

Recently GE announced and held a ‘parts challenge’, where GE ‘crowd sourced’ design ideas for a bracket that goes onto our engines.  We had over 750 engineers and designers from around the world respond and it is our opinion that these type of initiatives help to engage the design community beyond the walls of GE.

AMazing®: Beyond the additively manufactured fuel nozzle for GE’s newest jet engine (CFM Leap), what’s on GE’s horizon with additive?

Greg Morris: GE as a whole is leveraging additive technologies across all of their businesses in a variety of ways.  A clear ‘win’ for GE is to incorporate additive technologies for development hardware.  Just this application alone allows GE to save tremendous time and costs in acquiring the low-volume parts necessary to prove out and test new products.

Within GE Aviation, we are in the process of identifying a number of other applications where additive can be applied to parts for our next generation engines.  We believe that by leveraging additive technologies on a variety of components for future engine platforms that we will realize substantial cost savings while providing our customers higher value engines in the form of better performance and cost savings.

AMazing®: This concludes our interview. Thank you very much for your participation and bringing awareness of GE’s exciting progress and commitment to additive manufacturing technologies.

About:
Greg Morris, Business Development Leader for Additive Manufacturing at GE Aviation:

Greg’s primary role is to help develop the roadmap and strategy for additive technologies within GE Aviation. He leads business development activities to bring work into the Additive Development Center (ADC) helping to educate about the transformative role additive technology can play in many of GE’s businesses and products.

Todd Rockstroh, Ph.D., Consulting Engineer at GE Aviation
Todd has been with GE Aviation for 27 years and has received numerous technical and managerial awards for his work in laser and non-conventional manufacturing processes. As a consulting engineer he focuses on special process control, laser material processing and smart machining.

About GE:
GE {NYSE: GE} works on things that matter. The best people and the best technologies taking on the toughest challenges. Finding solutions in energy, health and home, transportation and finance. Building, powering, moving and curing the world. Not just imagining. Doing. GE works.

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