GE awarded $9 million contract by US Navy to develop framework to rapidly 3D print replacement parts for ships, aircraft, and other critical military assets. The focus of the research is 3D printing with metal.
A team of scientists at GE Global Research, the technology development arm for General Electric, have been awarded a four-year contract worth $9 million by the US Navy. Their task is to develop a process for rapidly 3D printing exact digital models of replacement components — and to 3D print these parts in metal.
The team is working together with scientists and engineers from GE Aviation, GE Additive, Honeywell, Penn State, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Navy Nuclear Lab (NNL) and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM).
The approach is to build “digital twins” from model-based data on parts and sensor-based data from 3D metal printers to dramatically speed up the qualification and certification process. This applies both to replicating and printing replacement parts no longer manufactured for various naval marine and aviation assets, and to create parts for newly designed assets.
GE Digital Twins are described as living, learning digital models of physical assets, parts, processes and even systems. These models are continually updated as new sensor data or engineering knowledge from technical experts is integrated to reflect the exact state of its physical counterpart at any point in time.
“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,” says Ade Makinde, Principal Engineer, Additive Technologies at GE Global Research.
“With today’s technology, the process for designing a new part can take years. We think we can reduce that timeframe to weeks, with the unique digital solutions under development.”
Makinde explains that it is extremely difficult to quickly make a 1:1 replacement part through 3D printing processes that was originally produced using conventional manufacturing techniques.
“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. With the kind of mission-critical equipment the Navy operates, there is no room for deviations in material performance or manufacturing error.”
US Navy Banking on Digital Twins to Stay in Ship-Shape
Having a rapid process for producing and installing replacement parts would greatly support the US Navy’s efforts to manage and maintain excellence for an aging Navy fleet.
The average age of active Navy ships, for example, is 17 years. The oldest in service was deployed in 1970. In cases where ships are several decades old, replacement parts often are no longer manufactured.
This is similar to what car enthusiasts have experienced when rebuilding or repairing classic or older cars. Just like the automotive sector, the Navy is turning to 3D printing to get the parts they need faster.
“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,” said Makinde.
“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. 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 will occur in a pair of two-year phases. Phase 1 will focus on the underlying software and hardware developments. In Phase 2, GE will build a complete additive system that demonstrates the rapid and robust creation of a part’s digital model or digital twin and printing of that part using a 3D Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) printer.
Source: GE Newsroom