General Electric (GE) Aviation’s Auburn facility recently reached 100,000 shipments of additively manufactured fuel nozzle tips. The company’s Auburn site began producing fuel nozzle tips in 2015 and was the industry’s first mass manufacturing site for producing aircraft engine parts using additive manufacturing.
The part is made for the CFM LEAP engine, which entered revenue service in 2016 and surpassed 10 million flight hours earlier this year. The company says the fleet is providing operators with 15% better fuel efficiency than previous generation engines. Each engine has 18 or 19 fuel nozzles, depending on the specific model.
Employees at the Auburn facility helped establish new processes to mass-produce parts with additive methods, then scaled the technology over time, while improving and maintaining production quality.
GE Aviation Auburn plant leader Andrea McAllister says her team implemented efficiency measures which enabled sustainability of mass production.
“Proving that we could sustain high-volume production is so meaningful to our team in Auburn,” said McAllister. “We took what used to require about 20 different parts and created a single fuel nozzle tip component with 3D printers and metal powder. We’re excited to grow this technology here.”
Additive manufacturing involves using computer-aided designs to “print” a metal part from powder, layer by layer. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that mill or cut away from a slab of metal to produce a part, additive manufacturing (also referred to as 3D printing) grows parts directly from a CAD file using layers of fine metal powder and an electron beam or laser. The resulting part is lighter weight with less waste, manufactured in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional methods.
GE Aviation additive general manager Eric Gatlin heaped praise on the Auburn facility and says it is forging a path to the future in additive manufacturing.
“We opened the industry’s first site for mass production using the additive manufacturing process, and to achieve this milestone affirms our plans and investments were on target,” said Gatlin. “There is a bright and exciting future for this technology.”
The Auburn plant was first opened in 2013 to build high pressure turbine blades and was expanded to add additive manufacturing capability for the LEAP engine fuel nozzle tips. GE Aviation employees in Auburn also build high pressure turbine blades for CF6, CF34, GEnx and CFM LEAP engines, as well as hangers for GE90 and CF34 engines.
Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL