The 3D-printed aircraft engine support is greener than its traditionally produced counterpart

The Green Additives Manufacturers Association (AMGTA) has published its first independent scientific study comparing the entire life cycle of the Low Pressure Turbine (LPT) bracket fitted to the GE Aviation CF6-80C2B6F turbine engines powering the Boeing 767 aircraft. produced using two different production methods – 3D printing from metal powders on an EOS 3D printer and in a traditional way.

The study was carried out by the Golisano Institute of Sustainability of Rochester Institute of Technology in the USA. As part of it, a commercial, low-pressure aircraft turbine support was analyzed through the prism of the so-called. life cycle assessment, comparing the technology of selective metal sintering with a laser beam and the traditional production method, and the impact of reducing the weight of the cantilever by more than 50% over the entire life of the aircraft. The AMGTA says that while the end result of the study was “inconclusive in determining which production method uses more energy,” it confirmed the “dramatic impact” lighter aircraft engines have on reducing carbon emissions.

Despite the use of three separate methods, it was not possible to clearly determine which production method (traditional or additive) used more energy. This finding is a significant improvement over previous studies showing higher energy consumption in additive manufacturing compared to traditional methods. At the same time, the study showed very clearly that lightening the aircraft components with a part produced in 3D printing technology resulted in a weight reduction of 13,376 kg for every 1 kg of weight reduction. Overall, 3D printing allowed for a more sustainable part to be produced – the weight reduction effect was decisive in making additively manufactured components more sustainable than those traditionally designed and manufactured.

The study lasted two years. During this time, the parts were analyzed using three whole-cycle benchmarking (LCA) methods, including the ReCiPe 2016 midpoint v1.1 method, cumulative energy demand v1.11, and the IPCC 2021 GWP100 method of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Two of the three methods showed that, from a purely manufacturing point of view, the traditional support required less energy to produce, while one method showed that the metal 3D printing technology produced less carbon dioxide. However, in all cases, the results showed that the energy mix underlying the electricity grid had a huge impact on the sustainability of the production process. The LCA was carried out in accordance with ISO 14040:2006(E) and was verified by EarthShift Global.

The bottom bracket, which is one of 12 fitted to each of the two GE Aviation CF6-80C2B6F turbine engines powering the Boeing 767 aircraft, secures the fuel manifold to the outer housing of the engine’s low-pressure turbine module. The part was selected by the AMGTA because it was relatively simple to manufacture and readily available. Design and 3D printing technology was carried out by Sintavia, LLC in Hollywood, Florida and printed on an EOS GmbH M290 metal 3D printer using Höganäs AB Inconel 718 powder. The traditional part was produced by a Tennessee-based workshop using CNC process. The optimized and 3D printed bracket was over 50% (-0.063 kg) lighter than the original version. According to Sintavia, the printed part outperformed the traditional part in terms of mechanical properties and fatigue life – despite the reduced tare weight.

While the choice of bracket was a simple demonstration of how lightweight construction could work in an aero engine, AMGTA believes the study’s findings could be applied much more widely by aircraft designers and engine manufacturers to a wide range of mechanical systems. Moreover, the methods of reducing weight in transport using 3D printing technology are not limited to metal powders, as other additive technologies can similarly remove excess weight in vehicles, planes and ships.

“This study highlights the importance of using 3D printing to develop optimized parts and components that have been lightened by it,” said Brian Neff, CEO of Sintavia and chairman of AMGTA. “No other cost-effective commercial technology has such an immediate impact on carbon emissions as lightweight aircraft parts, and now we have independently verified data to back that up.”

While the study has direct implications for aircraft engine manufacturing, the use phase findings cover any part of the aircraft that has the potential to be lightweight – mechanical systems, seats, service carts, galleys – to any equipment moved by the engine or engine – vehicles, ships, trains, robots.

Source: (press materials / all rights reserved)

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