It’s my personal experience that the world has become obsessed with 3D printing. If you want to build things, casting, milling and stamping are just as important.
But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that 3D printing is useless, as some people sometimes do. Sooner or later, the kids that learn about this technology using $300 devices will be making artificial bones in hospitals and who knows what else.
This guy decided that what he wants to build with his printer is a jet engine that sits on his desk. More specifically, he went for the GE GEnx-1 B aviation unit that goes under the wing of the Boeing 787 liner.
Just to get things straight here, there is no internal combustion going on here. The parts look like they are printed from plastic so they would belt in seconds. An electric motor spins the turboprop, sucking air into the engine. But that’s half of what the jet engine does, and if it were attached to a model aircraft, this thrust would be enough to taxi it down the runway.
If you still think 3D printers are stupid and don’t have a future, keep reading this story. As it turns out, while this amateur was making a model of the 787 jet, General Electric, the company that makes the real one, made a fully functioning one and fired it up last year in May.
The second video below shows how it works. While it’s a little smaller than the one under the wing of a jetliner, the principle is the same. GE Aviation’s Additive Development Center outside Cincinnati put the 1-foot long by 8-inch tall (30x20cm) put jet together over several years.
Even though they don’t know what the real-world application of such a thing would be, they still revved its nuts off to 33,000rpm.
“There are really a lot of benefits to building things through additive,” says Matt Benvie, spokesman for GE Aviation. “You get speed because there’s less need for tooling and you go right from a model or idea to making a part. You can also get geometries that just can’t be made any other way.”
Earlier this week, American aerospace manufacturer and defence industry company Orbital ATK tested a 3D-printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
It has been an eventful month for the US-based firm; a $47 million contract from the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center for an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program for national space security missions is now followed by this path-breaking testing mission.
The scramjet, or the supersonic combusting ramjet combustor is one of the most challenging parts of a propulsion systems. Here, the jet is propelled by combustion which takes place in supersonic airflow. A scramjet relies on high vehicle speed to forcefully compress the incoming air, hence they key is efficient operation at high speed. This scramjet component spent a thorough 20-day period in high-temperature hypersonic flight conditions and at the same time, underwent one of the longest wind propulsion tunnel tests at Langley.
The combustor was assembled by a process called Powder Bed Fusion (PBF), where a layer of metal alloy is laid down by the printer and a laser or electron beams fuses areas of it by following a digital pattern. Following this layer-by-layer process, the excess powder is removed and the component is smoothened. Pat Nolan, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Missile Products division remarks that this process is as necessary as it efficient since the complex design of the combustor would otherwise require multiple parts and a much more arduous manufacturing technique.
The tests served a dual objective: observing the effectiveness of the 3D printing process, and concluding if the finished product met its mission objectives, and Orbital ATK claims both of these were satisfactory.
The 3D printing process was completed at the company’s Ronkonkoma, New York facility and the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Rocket Center, West Virginia.
NASA’s latest rocket engine might not be something you can whip up at home on your own 3D printer, but a staggering 75 percent of the components were created with 3D printing technology. That might sound like a recipe for catastrophic failure, but the 3D-printed engine roared to life with about 20,000 pounds of thrust in a recent test.
Additive manufacturing, which is a fancy name for 3D printing, is still in its infancy, but NASA has actually been working with the technology for years. According to Popular Mechanics, the agency has been working towards 3D-printed engines since at least early 2013.
“Additive manufacturing is this new technology that really gives us an endless set of possibilities for the products we manufacture at NASA for our terrestrial launch vehicle and our in-space applications,” John Vickers, from NASA’s Materials and Processes Laboratory, told Popular Mechanics at that time.
Since then, NASA has used 3D printing to rapidly prototype and manufacture various rocket engine components, and a 3D printer was also sent up to the International Space Station. As previously reported by Inquisitr, astronauts have been using the technology to print tools and replacement parts on the fly since 2014.
Although NASA has tested individual 3D-printed engine components separately, this latest test marks the first time that so many were assembled together and fired off as a unit.
The components were created via an additive manufacturing process known as selective laser smelting. Unlike the commercially available 3D printers you can currently buy, which use spools of plastic, this process uses a laser to fuse together layers of metal powder. So if you were hoping to throw together a rocket engine in your garage, your RepRap or Makerbot isn’t going to be up to the task.
According to NASA, the 3D-printed engine is more of a proof of concept, to show that the individual 3D-printed components can work together, than a real, functioning rocket engine. This is why the engine doesn’t look like what you might expect a rocket engine to look like, even though it is capable of generating a staggering 20,000 pounds of thrust.
“In engineering lingo, this is called a breadboard engine,” Nick Case, the testing lead for the 3D-printed rocket engine project, explained via news release from NASA. “What matters is that the parts work the same way as they do in a conventional engine and perform under the extreme temperatures and pressures found inside a rocket engine. The turbopump got its ‘heartbeat’ racing at more than 90,000 revolutions per minute, and the end result is the flame you see coming out of the thrust chamber to produce over 20,000 pounds of thrust, and an engine like this could produce enough power for an upper stage of a rocket or a Mars lander.”
The implication is that this technology could be instrumental in building the next generation of launch vehicles, a Mars lander designed to carry human astronauts, and all sorts of other vital components. According to NASA, 3D printing technology also allows large, complex components to be created with fewer individual parts. For instance, the turbopump in the 3D-printed engine has 45 percent fewer component parts, and the injector uses 200 less component parts than a traditional injector.
The possibilities on display with this 3D-printed rocket engine don’t end on Earth, either. As evidenced by astronauts already using 3D printers on the International Space Station, the possibilities go into orbit, and beyond. Although Popular Mechanics points out that some components, like gaskets, can’t be printed with current technology, astronauts on a future mission to Mars could print all manner of replacement parts and components without having to rely on an Earth-bound supply chain.
[Screengrab via YouTube]
- New print head with every material change
Australian researchers unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine on Thursday, a manufacturing breakthrough that could lead to cheaper, lighter and more fuel-efficient jets.
Engineers at Monash University and its commercial arm are making top-secret prototypes for Boeing Co, Airbus Group NV, Raytheon Co and Safran SA in a development that could be the saviour of Australia’s struggling manufacturing sector.
“This will allow aerospace companies to compress their development cycles because we are making these prototype engines three or four times faster than normal,” said Simon Marriott, chief executive of Amaero Engineering, the private company set up by Monash to commercialise the product.
Marriott said Amaero plans to have printed engine components in flight tests within the next 12 months and certified for commercial use within the next two to three years.
Australia has the potential to corner the market. It has one of only three of the necessary large-format 3D metal printers in the world – France and Germany have the other two – and is the only place that makes the materials for use in the machine.
It is also the world leader in terms of intellectual property (IP) regarding 3D printing for manufacturing.
“We have personnel that have 10 years experience on this equipment and that gives us a huge advantage,” Marriott told Reuters by phone from the Avalon Airshow outside Melbourne.
3D printing makes products by layering material until a three-dimensional object is created. Automotive and aerospace companies use it for producing prototypes as well as creating specialized tools, moldings and some end-use parts.
Marriott declined to comment in detail on Amaero’s contracts with companies, including Boeing and Airbus, citing commercial confidentiality. Those contracts are expected to pay in part for the building of further large format printers, at a cost of around A$3.5 million ($2.75 million) each, to ramp up production of jet engine components.
3D printing can cut production times for components from three months to just six days.
Ian Smith, Monash University’s vice-provost for research, said it was very different to the melting, moulding and carving of the past.
“This way we can very quickly get a final product, so the advantages of this technology are, firstly, for rapid prototyping and making a large number of prototypes quickly,” Smith said. “Secondly, for being able to make bespoke parts that you wouldn’t be able to with classic engineering technologies.”
© Thomson Reuters 2015