The U.S. Office of Naval Research awarded the GE Global Research team a $9 million, four-year contract to research and develop a faster way to recreate an actual replacement part for an existing part. A spare-parts industry application to find a way to replace the existing old worn-out parts from the navy ships, aircraft and other critical military assets. While the initial focus will be on legacy-parts, the research will eventually be used for other consumer applications as well.
The research will not be limited only to their replacement of existing parts but also to develop new designs for those existing parts thereby enhancing their performance.
The research team will comprise of scientists and engineers from GE Additive, GE Aviation, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Honeywell, Penn State, Navy Nuclear Lab (NNL) and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM). The team will build on GE’s digital twins, which is a learning and evolving digital model of tangible assets or parts which are continuously updated as per the new sensor data made available for its upgradation. Thus it helps in finding the optimum design for the specific application.
This model-based data of the parts in consideration will help in building the upgraded version of the replacement part which is not only digitally qualified but passes through a certifiable process for replicating and 3D printing the old and obsolete parts.
Speaking on the four-year contract, Ade Makinde, Principal Engineer, Additive Technologies at GE Global Research said, “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 of designing a new part can take years. We think we can reduce that timeframe to weeks, with the unique digital solutions under development.”
Ade Makinde further explained that it is extremely difficult to 3D print a part which was originally designed for and manufactured by traditional manufacturing techniques. He clarified that “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.”
The average age of an active Navy ship is 17 years but this can exceed depending on the maintenance and the reparations. Parts which were traditionally manufactured for building all the existing ships are majorly not in manufacturing and this makes it additionally difficult to replace the existing failed parts. 3D printing offers the perfect solution to the replacement part industry and companies are now trying to unlock its potential.
GE has been at the forefront of the 3D printing revolution and according to Abe Makinde, “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. 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.”
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has had great success in developing some novel 3D printing methods through its continuous research over the years. LLNL’s research in Volumetric Printing and 3D printing of Sub-Micron Features has been commendable.
According to Wayne King, head of LLNL’s Accelerated Certification of Additively Manufactured Metals (ACAMM) project, “We are pleased to have the opportunity to bring our modelling 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. This partnership with GE is ideal because it connects us with a major U.S. vendor of metal additive manufacturing machines.”
The four-year contract is divided into two phases. The first phase will focus on the hardware and software developments while the second phase will build the additive manufacturing system which demonstrates the rapid manufacturing of a part’s digital twin and 3D printing of that part using a Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) 3D printer.
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