Back in 2015, GE Aviation began utilizing additive manufacturing technology in the retrofitting of hundreds of GE90 jet engines with 3D printed sensor housings. Fast forward a little, and the company has continued to make major headway into the 3D printing world, as parent GE made major investments to acquire metal additive manufacturing companies and will be introducing its own metal 3D printing system soon, while GE Aviation has been busy working on new materials, opening 3D printing factories, and changing the way that aircraft engines are made. Recently, GE Aviation and the US Army completed a successful engine test of the first Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE), which was designed to meet some pretty tough goals and features a 3D printed turbine rig.The FATE engine, when compared with currently fielded engines, has an increased hot-and-high payload, 20% design life improvement, extended endurance and range, a 35% specific fuel consumption reduction, a 45% reduction in production and maintenance costs, and an 80% power-to-weight improvement.
This first engine-level test happened once the FATE turbine rig, combustor, and compressor had all been successfully tested; this last had the highest recorded single-spool compressor pressure ratio in the company’s history, and the combustor test used GE’s ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) in the module, which allow the engine to produce more power with less weight. In order to achieve reduced development costs and faster construction, additive manufacturing was used to build the FATE’s turbine rig.
“We’re thrilled with the results from the first FATE full engine test, which completed all primary objectives with more than 40 hours of run time and nearly 1000 steady state and transient data points. This risk-reduction vehicle is a key step in the program towards our final build and performance demonstration. From a pure design capability standpoint, the FATE program is the most advanced turboshaft development engine GE has tested in our history, incorporating an extensive use of commercially developed technologies for the next generation of propulsion. We’re proud to work with the Army in maturing these breakthrough technologies and we’re looking forward to applying our learnings to the second engine test early next year,” said Harry Nahatis, VP and General Manager of GE Aviation’s Turboshaft Engine Department.
The FATE engine also has advanced controls technologies, algorithms, and sensor suite to improve the sustainment needs and performance of aircraft. Testing for the second FATE engine will start in early 2018.
Speaking of the T901-GE-900, GE Aviation has also successfully completed testing on the turboshaft engine prototype, in support of the Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP).
Tony Mathis, President of GE Aviation’s Military Systems Operation, said, “Between the T408, T901 and FATE programs, we have a unique multigenerational product plan that shares technologies across our military rotorcraft efforts, incorporates commercial engine technologies and fuses them together in a low-risk manner to drive high-performance and affordable engines applicable to both military and commercial aircraft.”
“To validate our analytical models ahead of the ITEP PDR with the Army, it was critical to demonstrate that a T901 prototype engine outfitted with the latest and greatest commercial and military technologies will meet ITEP performance requirements—there is no substitute for testing. We’re thrilled with the overwhelmingly successful results, confirming that these requirements can be achieved while maintaining the single spool architecture of the T700 that enables full modularity and higher reliability,” said Ron Hutter, Executive Director of the T901 program. “Beyond the advanced design and hardware, the T901 features the latest diagnostic and prognostic tools with a modular architecture that provides the Army with the flexibility to improve readiness at the lowest life cycle costs. The T700’s modular engine architecture proved in austere operating conditions to be highly maintainable in a fix-forward, expeditionary environment while minimizing the logistics footprint and overall sustainment costs.”
The T901 turboshaft engine uses high-temperature material and advanced manufacturing technologies that were originally developed for GE’s commercial jet engines, like CMCs and 3D printed components that were used on the company’s LEAP and GE9X engines. By using these technologies, the T901 will have a lower aircraft operating weight and dramatically decreased fuel consumption – this will, GE Aviation says, allow the engine “to meet or exceed the Army’s aggressive performance targets with field-proven, low-cost technologies.”
The T901 uses a lot of 3D printed parts, as the technology means GE can build complex 3D parts with more advanced shapes that are more lightweight, durable, and higher performing; for instance, there’s a 3D printed part used in the T901 that lowers an over 50 subcomponent assembly into a single part.
The T901 engine tests took place over a period of six months, and far exceeded the performance requirements from ITEP, which shows that the engine is ready for the next phase: ITEP’s Engineering and Manufacturing Development. Now that the prototype test is over, GE will continue to run tests at its Massachusetts and Ohio facilities on the compressor, combustor and turbine components for the company-funded part of its development program.
Hutter explained, “With traditional machining and fabrication methods, individual parts are machined into finished parts from castings or forgings and built into assemblies using welding/brazing or bolted joints. On the T901, additive manufacturing reduces weight by minimizing attaching features in assemblies. Additive also allows for more advanced aerodynamic shapes, leading to better engine performance, reliability and durability for the Army.”
“I am a strong supporter of GE’s work in support of our national defense and GE Aviation in Lynn is a critical part of that effort,” said Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-6). “The Improved Turbine Engine Program (or ‘ITEP’) represents a significant step forward for the Army’s helicopter fleet, providing greater capability and greater efficiency for our warfighters. I am proud of the contributions GE continues to make to our community and to our national defense.”
GE is also using the University of Notre Dame’s Turbomachinery Laboratory (NDTL) for advanced turbine testing. To learn more about the T901, check out the white paper.
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