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$9 Million Awarded to Four-Year GE Global Research Program for 3D Printing New and Replacement Naval Parts

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Increasingly, no matter if the need is automotive or defense, service centers and repair shops are adopting the capability to 3D print replacement parts on-demand. This is especially helpful in replacing legacy manufacturing processes to fabricate parts that are too old to be in stock anymore.

This week, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which is behind the science and technology programs of the US Marine Corps and Navy, awarded a team of GE Global Research scientists $9 million over the course of a four-year program to develop a framework that allows for rapid qualification and certification of 3D printed new and replacement parts – by using exact digital twins.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Rodriguez, a maintenance officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, holds a 3D printed plastic bumper for an F-35B Lightning II landing gear door aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) while underway in the Pacific Ocean. [Photo: Cpl. Stormy Mendez]

“Using GE’s Digital Twin technology, we’re aiming to rapidly speed up the time that parts could be re-engineered or newly created using 3D printing processes. With today’s technology, the process for designing a new part can take years,” explained Ade Makinde, Principal Engineer, Additive Technologies at GE Global Research. “We think we can reduce that timeframe to weeks, with the unique digital solutions under development.”

In addition to GE Global Research, scientists and engineers from the following organizations will participate in the program:

[Image: GE]

GE’s Digital Twins are continually updated as they receive and integrate engineering knowledge from experts and new sensor data. These living, learning digital models can reflect the state of its physical counterpart, like a ship, system, process, or jet engine part, at any time

The collaborative team is using data based on models and sensors to build digital twins, which will help increase the qualification and certification process for duplicating and 3D printing replacement parts that are no longer being manufactured by aviation and naval marine assets, and for making parts for new assets.

Making a 3D printed 1:1 replacement fast for a part that was originally manufactured using traditional processes is very difficult, Makinde noted.

“The key challenge with industrial 3D printing is being able to additively build a part that mirrors the exact material composition and properties of the original part that was formed through subtractive measures,” said Makinde. “With the kind of mission-critical equipment the Navy operates, there is no room for deviations in material performance or manufacturing error.”

The average age of an active Navy ship is roughly 17 years, but some are even older. In some cases, where the ships are several decades old, replacement parts are no longer being manufactured for them…the same is true in automotive applications. So the Navy’s efforts to manage and maintain its aging fleet would be greatly supported by setting up a rapid process to 3D print and install replacement parts.

“We’re already seeing the proliferation of 3D printing in the automotive sector, which are enabling the manufacture of outdated car parts no longer being made. When it comes to mission-critical assets like Naval ships and aircraft, the bar is higher for producing high quality parts that encounter much higher stresses and tolerances,” Makinde said. “But as one of the world’s leading aircraft engine makers that produce and maintain a fleet of 35,000+ jet engines that are in service for decades, we bring a unique understanding and depth of expertise to what kind of digital models are required.”

The four-year program the group is embarking upon will be set up in two phases, and the first will focus on software and hardware developments, while the team will build a complete AM system during the second phase, which will eventually demonstrate the rapid creation of a digital model or twin for a part, and then 3D print the part on a direct metal laser melting (DMLM) printer. If the program is successful, the new 3D printing solutions it develops could potentially be used as industry models for the rapid design and production of parts.

[Image: Navantia]

GE will integrate its Edge Controls technology into the 3D printer in order to monitor print quality and specifications, while LLNL brings its years of intelligent “feed forward” design methods R&D in metal 3D printing to the table.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to bring our modeling and simulation methods, as well as our expertise in in-situ sensing and monitoring to this project. Part certification has been the focus for us all along, and we think we’ve made considerable progress and gained the confidence of our program engineers and physicists with regards to part quality,” said Wayne King, the head of LLNL’s Accelerated Certification of Additively Manufactured Metals (ACAMM) project. “This partnership with GE is ideal because it connects us with a major U.S. vendor of metal additive manufacturing machines.”

LLNL’s method combines simulation and multi-physics modeling with, as GE puts it, “state-of-the-art experimental observations” in order to train 3D printers how to predict and make metal parts free of defects in the first go, without having to waste time on more traditional trial and error.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below.


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