Engineers at General Electric have created a tiny jet engine using 3-D printing techniques that they say could rewrite the rules for how components inside commercial turbine engines are produced.
The mini jet engine project was completed at GE Aviation’s Additive Development Center outside Cincinnati. The lab focuses on developing additive manufacturing techniques that can produce complex 3-D structures by melting metal powders and laying them in super thin layers until something miraculous emerges.
In this case it was a foot-long jet engine, complete with fan blades and internal compressor, that they built over the course of “several years” to test the technique’s capabilities.
“We wanted to see if we could build a little engine that runs almost entirely out of additive manufacturing parts,” said one of the engineers, according to GE Reports, an online magazine published by GE. “This was a fun side project.”
Rather than scale down a GE commercial jet engine, designers took plans for an existing R/C model jet engine and customized it for their 3-D printer. Because the engine was built layer by layer, it allowed the developers to use different kinds of alloys and totally new geometry.
When they lit off the engine in a test cell recently, it performed flawlessly, spooling up to an incredible 33,000 rpm.
The designers may have had fun building their miniature engine, but the exercise was about more than bragging rights. The development team, for example, recently obtained FAA certification for the first 3-D printed component for a GE90 commercial jet engine.
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