West Chester Twp.-based GE Additive needs help designing the 3D printers that create engine parts so advanced that current technology cannot produce them.
That’s why the GE Aviation subsidiary on Monday signed a five-year cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) partnership agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a leader in additive manufacturing.
The two partners will improve energy and material efficiency, utilize domestic energy resources, support production of clean energy and benefit the nation’s economy, ORNL officials said.
The agreement focuses on processes, materials and software to drive broader adoption of additive manufacturing technology.
Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE, toured GE’s West Chester facility Monday just before the agreement was signed. He said 3D printed parts have, for a long time, seemed to be “little toys,” when that is not the case.
“These are real parts in the real world. They’re made out of metal, like in some cases you can’t make these parts in another way, and so that’s where it is really exciting,” Simmons said. “It is additive manufacturing made real. This is not toys, it’s real manufacturing.”
GE invested in additive manufacturing, or “3D printing,” more than a decade ago when the technology first came out and Oak Ridge began developing some of the methodology, according Christine Furstoss, GE Additive’s chief technology officer.
“We understood the power of additive to design parts that cannot be produced any other way, to be able to use materials that are very hard to process in any other method,” Furstoss said. “We’ve advanced to really almost outpacing the ability of the process to make the parts. We can design parts that are so intricate, it’s almost hard to image those. We now need machines that keep up with that.”
Since 2015, GE has manufactured 3D printed fuel nozzles for the Airbus A320’s jet engine. The company is working on 60 other designs, using additive manufacturing in some of them to reduce the number of components from 855 to 12.
What’s created by the partnership will “knock down a lot of barriers.”
“We’re really going to bring it to the masses, to small and medium enterprises, to be able to really differentiate themselves and be able to continue to invest in U.S. manufacturing,” Furstoss said.
Additive technology involves putting down a layer of metal powder, then using an energy source to finely write a very intricate shape, she said.
“It’s almost like Etch-A-Sketch, if you remember those days, where you draw it, but we’re doing it layer by layer, and we’re getting properties and shapes no one else could imagine,” Furstoss said. “That takes a lot of technologies to come together.”
Scientists at Oak Ridge, which has Summit, the world’s fastest computer, are using additive manufacturing to design a Transformational Challenge Reactor, a nuclear reactor that’s approximately 3 feet high and about 4 feet in diameter, according to Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director.
“It’s not about the fastest, it’s about its ability to do things,” Khaleel said. “We can take lots of data, lots of information, and generate very useful algorithms and methodologies to control additive manufacturing such that we can make the right part with the right structure inside the material.”
The agreement supersedes an existing CRADA in place since 2012 between ORNL and GE Additive Arcam EBM.
Furstoss said Oak Ridge National Lab understands the process deeper than any other team she knows and has abilities to characterize and test materials in very unique ways.
“It’s really just such a beautiful marriage,” she said.
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