A collaboration that began last year between GE Additive and GE Aviation and the U.S. Air Force is now coming to fruition. As the U.S. Air Force sought help with creating a metal additive airworthiness and certification path, beginning mid-2019, they received a proposal from GE offering a streamlined plan for readiness, affordability, and sustainment in an AM program.
With some aircraft reaching 60 years of service for the military, the U.S. Air Force’s Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) began considering better ways to perform maintenance and manufacture spare parts. As the GE team reached out to the ROS, they realized that GE had the experience in qualifying and certifying AM parts that they required.
“The RSO is excited to partner with GE Additive and its efforts to deliver additively manufactured parts for the Air Force,” said Nathan Parker, deputy program executive officer for the RSO who oversees and provides funding for the project with GE. “Their successes will help ensure our systems rapidly obtain the high-quality parts they need to stay flying and at the ready.”
As continued proponents of 3D printing and additive manufacturing processes—for years, before most people were even aware of such technology—both GE Additive and a variety of different military divisions have continued to innovate, expanding AM facilities around the world, developing new materials , and creating new parts for U.S. Air Force planes and even runways . In this partnership, the two organizations have developed a multi-phased program that ascends in both complexity and scale as each phase is completed.
“The Air Force wanted to go fast from day one and gain the capability and capacity for metal additive manufacturing, as rapidly as possible, to improve readiness and sustainability,” explains Lisa Coroa-Bockley, general manager for advanced materials solutions at GE Aviation.
“Speed is additive’s currency, and by applying our additive experiences with the LEAP fuel nozzle and other parts additively printed for the GE9X, being able to offer an end-to-end solution and also applying lessons learned of a robust certification processes, we’ve been able to accelerate the pace for the USAF,” added Coroa-Bockley.
The program, based on a spiral development model, begins with basic part identification and then moves forward to part consolidation and certifying more complicated systems like common core heat exchangers.
“The collaborative effort between the US Air Force and GE shows great promise toward the adoption of metal 3D printed parts as an option to solve the US Air Force’s current and future sustainment challenges. This capability provides an alternate method to source parts for legacy propulsion systems throughout their life cycle, especially when faced with a diminishing supplier base or when infrequent demands or low volume orders are not attractive to traditional manufacturers,” said Colonel Benjamin Boehm, director, AFLCMC/LP Propulsion Directorate.
So far, the collaborative team has completed Phase 1, identifying GE Aviation spare parts for the F110 and TF34 engines, and then evaluating and proving their readiness for flight. Work had already been started on a sump cover (in use already for F-15 and F-16 aircraft) for the General Electric F110 engine, and it became the focal point of the first phase in the program.
Phase 1b, in the planning stages, will reflect continued complexity in the stages, as the team works on a sump cover housing. This is a ‘family of parts’ currently found on the TF34 engine—part of an aircraft that has been in use for over four decades.
“Re-engineering legacy parts and additively manufacturing low quantities of traditionally cast parts has incredible potential to improve USAF supportability. It’s worth our focus to develop a fast, highly repeatable process,” said Melanie Jonason, chief engineer for the propulsion sustainment division at Tinker Air Force Base (AFB).
Excited about the project from the beginning, Jonason is working with the GE Aviation military team, the chief engineer, Dr. Matt Szolwinski, James Bonar, and a team of GE Additive engineers.
“Compared to other parts on the F110 engine, the sump cover might have lower functionality, but is incredibly important. It needs to be durable, form a seal and it needs to work for the entire engine to function – which is of course critical on a single engine aircraft like the F-16,” said James Bonar, engineering manager at GE Additive.
GE Additive and GE Aviation have worked together closely in designing the aluminum sump cover—with the first builds produced on GE Additive Concept Laser M2 machines running cobalt-chrome at their Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Cincinnati.
“The program with GE is ahead of schedule and the preliminary work already done on the sump cover has allowed us to move forward quickly. As we build our metal additive airworthiness plan for the Air Force, the completion of each phase represents a significant milestone as we take a step closer to getting an additive part qualified to fly in one of our aircraft,” said Beth Dittmer, division chief, propulsion integration at Tinker AFB.
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[Source / Images: Source / Images: GE Additive]