This Jet Engine was made by a 3D printer

One of the most exciting technologies to emerge in recent time, 3D printing has a become a popular but limited method of manufacturing – until now. Engineers at GE Aviation’s Additive Development Center in Cincinnati have made the world’s 3D printed first jet engine using one of the devices. Far from the one off pieces 3D printing is known for, this side project could indicate the maturing of 3D printing into a viable manufacturing alternative for industry.

A modified version of one you’d find in a Remote Control plane, the jet is made entirely from 3D printed parts. “We wanted to see if we could build a little engine that runs almost entirely out of additive manufacturing parts,” says one of the engineers – with little being the key word. Measuring roughly a foot in length and 8in in height, the jet won’t be powering jumbo jets anytime soon, but it is fully functional – accelerating to a maximum of 33,000 revolutions per minute.

Printing with metal

Made from a different type of 3D printing than usual, the jet was constructed by using lasers to fuse thin layers of metal on top of each other. Building from the ground up has other advantages too. Not only is there less material waste, parts can be designed more precisely than when using conventional methods.

3D printers are already being used in variety of more specialised tasks. Already employed in Formula One to test designs before manufacturing them out of lighter and stronger carbon fibre, 3D printing is already widely used during the design and prototype phase of many consumer products. It’s also prevalent in architecture, automotive design and engineering.

The process is used on an even smaller scale by other industries, and is used to make everything from casts, dental equipment and is even encroaching of grey areas of the law with firearm production. Previously a stumbling block for 3D printed models, a method also now exists that allows all-over colour painting. But when it comes to serious industrial manufacturing in large numbers, the technology just isn’t enjoying the same wave of optimism – and this jet help could help change that.

3D printing could be how everything’s made soon

Although described as a fun side project by its creators, this project hints at the wider, more commercial future of the technology.

Things are changing already. Although the first entirely 3D printed jet engine, this isn’t the first time 3D printed parts have been used inside in an aircraft. The team responsible for the jet engine has also manufactured a 3D printed fuel nozzle for use in commercial aircraft. Throw in the fact that last month the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration cleared the first 3D printed part for use in commercial jet engines, and it just looks like it’s only a matter time before what some are calling “the second industrial revolution” is underway.

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