Twenty parts were once machined together to construct part of the CFM Leap engine. Now there’s only one piece—and it’s five times stronger.
The bestselling aircraft engine General Electric ever conceived is one that doesn’t enter production until later this year and is considered the first passenger jet engine to use 3-D printed fuel nozzles.
Close to 8,000 orders valued at more than $80 billion have been placed for GE’s new Leap engine, currently being developed by CFM International, a joint company with split ownership between GE GE 0.83% and France-based Snecma. While its capitalistic credentials are noteworthy, it’s the 3-D printing process—otherwise known as additive manufacturing—by which the engines’ fuel nozzles are produced that make the Leap a cut above. EveryLeap engine contains 19 nozzles, each of which has to withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. And where 20 separate parts were once machined together to construct the nozzle’s interior passageways, there is now only one piece built up by a layering of powdered metals melted and fused together through a direct metal laser melting, or DMLM, process—making each nozzle five times stronger than those made through milling, welding, and other subtractive manufacturing processes.
“I think what additive gives us is a whole different degree of freedom on how we think about component design,” says David Joyce, CEO and president of GE Aviation. “We no longer have to understand what the limits of machining are.”