3D Printing Could Take Aviation to New Heights

3D rendering - jet plane flying in the air

Jul 07, 2017

Recently, GE and Stratasys unveiled new initiatives that could dramatically impact aerospace production timelines and costs. Not surprisingly, these plans are fueled by new advancements in 3D printing.

GE's new Bottom of Form engine, called the Advanced Turboprop (ATP), could see more than one-third of its components produced via additive manufacturing methods, including 3D printing. This would establish a new plateau for commercial aircraft engines. The use of these processes also allowed the designers to reduce the total number of engine parts from 855 to 12.

The ATP is scheduled for its initial test run later this year at GE’s facility in Prague, with the engine logging flight time in 2018, and hitting full-scale production by 2020. GE states it could eventually be used in Cessna’s new single-engine, 10-person Denali aircraft.

In addition to simplifying the engine composition, 3D printing will lower the engine’s weight by five percent, improving fuel efficiency. The simplified design should also help on the maintenance front, as fewer moving parts will result in less wear and replacement. The ATP is expected to run 1,000 hours longer between overhauls. 

GE has spent over $1 billion in evolving 3D printing to meet its jet engine needs. This has included acquisitions and launching GE Additive, a business unit dedicated to supplying 3D printers, materials and engineering consulting services.

Continuing with the trend of taking 3D printing to the skies, Stratasys recently announced a partnership with Boom Supersonic. The two companies feel their combined efforts will bring commercial airlines closer to routine supersonic travel. The three-year agreement was signed to help Boom accelerate production of advanced tooling and production-grade aircraft parts based on Stratasys FDM 3D printing technology.

Boom feels the added design freedom, production speed and cost efficiencies of additive manufacturing could enable the first flight of their XB-1 supersonic demonstrator to take place next year. The company is deploying Stratasys FDM-based Fortus 450mc and F370 3D Printers to produce production-grade thermoplastic parts.

Boom states that their supersonic airliner will fly 2.6 times faster than any other aircraft on the market today. Accelerating to 1,451 miles per hour, the planes could reduce New York to London flight times of seven hours to just over three hours.