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Warut Sintapanon | Dreamstime
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Metal 3DP Displacing Original Sources for Long-Lead Parts

Sept. 6, 2022
A USAF and GE Additive collaboration is continuing to make gains as a reliable source of in-demand but unavailable or obsolete components.

Additive manufacturing continues its growth not simply because of its technical advances but also because that progress has helped the AM businesses gain the confidence of customers. This is particularly true in aerospace and defense markets, where parts availability can be a critical problem. Earlier this year the U.S. Air Force and GE Additive entered a new phase in their joint effort, called “Pacer Edge,” the broad goal of which is to establish additive manufacturing alternatives for in-demand cast or forged component parts of commercial and military engines that are unavailable — and sometimes obsolete.

Last year, GE detailed successful AM production of a sump cover for the GE Aviation F110 turbofan engine, the engine that powers the USAF F-16 fighter jet and other military aircraft.

In Phase III of their effort the Air Force and GE focused on 3D printing for four F110 parts not in current production: a bellcrank, gearbox seat, anti-icing valve body, and a cross shaft arm. The first two parts, the cross shaft arm and the bellcrank, have been printed in cobalt-chrome by GE Additive on its own M2 Series 5 additive manufacturing systems.

In the Pacer Edge program’s final phase the USAF aims to establish its metal AM capability at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, which will speed delivery of parts now supplied as castings or forgings, but affected by long lead-times.

The effort to speed availability of critical or obsolete component parts has been a problem for the defense sector for decades, but long lead-times have become a widespread problem since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recently the federal government coordinated a voluntary program called AM Forward to coordinate efforts by OEMs (including GE Aviation) to support their suppliers in adopting AM/3DP capabilities, in order to reduce lead-times for low-volume/high-mix parts by 90%, while promoting novel design approaches and cost-saving models. The partners – including Boeing, GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies, and Siemens Energy, organized and supported by the Applied Science & Technology Research Organization of America (ASTRO America), a non-profit organization – pledged to increase their own demand for additive-manufactured parts, and to provide training opportunities to suppliers’ workers, offering detailed technical assistance, and engaging in standards development.

“Public-private initiatives like the recently announced AM Forward initiative will also help to address DoD’s sustainment and readiness challenges head on. Strengthening U.S. supply chains, by encouraging small and medium sized manufacturers across the United States to adopt metal additive technology, will create a nationwide network of a qualified additive manufacturing suppliers,” explained GE Additive’s Lauren Tubesing, director of Operations, Military Programs.