General Electric’s oil and gas division, which is one of its fastest growing areas, has officially announced that it will be starting pilot production of 3D printed metal fuel nozzles for gas turbines later this year. These nozzles have long been made from multiple smaller pieces being welded together. With the 3D printing technology, they will be able to be printed as a single unit. This will dramatically reduce the cost associated with them, and also make them much easier and faster to create.
They expect to have full production of these fuel nozzles in 2015, according to Eric Gebhardt, the Chief Technology Officer at GE Oil & Gas.
GE Aviation has already begun using 3D printing for fuel nozzles in their division. These nozzles are being used in the innovative new LEAP jet engines. This move by GE has helped to ensure this method of making fuel nozzles (and many other parts as well) commercially viable.
GE Oil and Gas has committed to investing $100 million over the course of the next two years for technology development. Of that money, a significant amount will be used on 3D printing (Additive Manufacturing). They have already purchased and installed dozens of these advanced printers throughout their business.
One of the most important benefits 3D printing is currently being used for is rapid prototyping. When creating prototypes of new equipment, it can be very costly and time consuming to manufacture each new version. With 3D printing, however, it can be done quickly and inexpensively with plastic or even metals. With many things, once the prototype has been completed, it can then be made using traditional manufacturing methods. Of course, in the future even the production versions will likely be printed.
An example of this comes from a GE pipeline inspection plant. In this plant, they create monitoring robots that have to be designed specifically for the pipeline where they will be used. These pipelines have many variables such as size, environment, what is being moved inside them and more.
In the past, the design of a new robot would take about 12 weeks. Today, it is being completed in about 12 hours due to an onsite 3D printer. Prototypes are designed, printed, tested and adjusted rapidly, allowing for a quick move to full production of the new robot.
GE is one of many companies that is really pushing the envelope with 3D printing, and this type of thing is exactly what will help keep the advancement of this technology moving fast.