One Part is a Breakthrough in Aerospace Design, Supply

Oct. 25, 2021
GE Aviation needed less than a year to develop and gain USAF airworthiness certification for a metal AM part.

For manufacturers, gaining the trust of buyers is necessary; It gets them invited to a meeting. But gaining certification is a breakthrough, because while the buyer always has the last word, having a part or process certified means the manufacturer is ready to be a supplier.

Certification normally involves some rejection and lots of revision. Thus, the recent news that GE Aviation received U.S. Air Force airworthiness certification for the 3D-printed sump cover of the F110 turbojet engine – in less than one year – is an important affirmation of additive manufacturing technology and of the GE design and manufacturing programs that executed the change.

Converting critical components, when possible, from castings or forgings to additive manufactured (3DP) parts is increasingly important in product design and design review. “Much like the GE90 T25 sensor that was an FAA certification ‘pathfinder’ for metal additive manufacturing for GE Aviation in commercial aerospace, the F110 sump cover sets a solid foundation for many more additively manufactured component qualifications with GE’s military customers,” stated Matt Szolwinski, chief engineer and leader of GE’s Large Military Engineering team.

GE Aviation has been aggressively pursuing additive manufacturing alternatives for component parts of commercial and military engines. The F110 sump cover was produced under a GE/USAF collaborative initiative called Pacer Edge, which will include installation of two GE Concept Laser powder-jet printers being installed at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, in 2022.

“The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., has challenged us to ‘accelerate change or lose.’ The entire Pacer Edge process is built around the ‘accelerate change’ philosophy, and the speed of the F110 sump cover development and airworthiness approval is evidence of that,” commented John Sneden, director of USAF’s Directorate of Propulsion. “The capability that Pacer Edge is demonstrating and proving will be a game changer to engine production and sustainment and will resolve many future Air Force readiness challenges.”

The airworthiness qualification of the F110 sump cover closes the first phase of the Pacer Edge effort (GE calls such efforts “pathfinders”), and the next phase is underway – seeking to use metal AM to produce an out-of-production sump cover housing on the TF34 engine, which has been in service more than 40 years.

“We started with a relatively easy part” according to Lisa Coroa-Bockley, general manager for GE’s Advanced Materials Solutions, “but the spiral development model is coming into its own. It provides focus for the team and our experts help navigate and problem solve along the way.”

Along with metal AM, GE engineers and technicians apply digital twinning capabilities, maintenance-based predictive analytics and part lifecycle management expertise as they coordinate with the USAF’s digital engineering strategy for part and system design and redesign.

“Human interaction and collaboration both add immense value to our work, but digital is the enabler. Additive is a powerful digital technology that spans the entire process, from design and modelling to in-situ monitoring, through to inspection and final level assurances,” added Coroa-Bockley. “Adding digital twinning and predictive analytics on top brings new horizons into view, such as systems management, diagnostics and repair of in-field systems.”