Researchers make a 3D-printed jet engine

Aerospace companies and defense contractors are lining up to see the 3D-printed engines

A group of researchers at an Australian university, along with its spinoff company, have used 3D printing to make two metal jet engines that, while only proof-of-concept designs, have all the working parts of a functioning gas turbine engine.

The two engines, created by Monash University and its spinoff Amaero Engineering, are garnering a lot of attention from leading aeronautics companies, including Airbus, Boeing and defense contractor Raytheon, which are lining up at the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing in Melbourne to develop new components with 3D printing.

3D printed jet engine Monash University

The 3D printed proof-of-concept jet engine on display at the International Air Show in Avalon, Victoria this week.

"Australia's manufacturing industries need access to the latest technologies to stay competitive," Professor Ian Smith, Monash University's vice provost for Research and Research Infrastructure, stated in a news release. "This Centre allows them to rapidly prototype metal devices across a wide range of industries. It's part of a large integrated suite of facilities for research and industry at Monash."

One of the proof-of-concept jet engines was on display this week at the International Air Show in Avalon, Victoria. The second is being displayed at the French aerospace company Microturbo, which originally challenged the university two years ago to build the engines.

The proof of concepts are replicas of an auxiliary power unit used in aircraft such as the Falcon 20 French business jet, which was provided by Microturbo.

3D printed jet engine components Monash University

The various 3D-printed components of the jet engine.

screen shot 2015 02 27 at 3.59.05 pm Monash University

The detail capable through 3D printing is displayed on the blades of this jet engine turbine.

"The project is a spectacular proof of concept that's leading to significant contracts with aerospace companies. It was a challenge for the team and pushed the technology to new heights of success - no one has printed an entire engine commercially yet," Ben Batagol, of Amaero Engineering, stated in a press release.

The 3D-printed jet engines demonstrate that engineers can produce jet engine test parts in days instead of the months it would typically take through machine lathing and poured-mold parts processes.

The jet engines were printed using an additive manufacturing (3D printing) technique known as selective laser sintering or melting, where a high-powered laser on a robotic head melts metal powder layer by wafer-thin layer.

The engines were printed using the X-Line 1000R 3D printer from Concept Laser, a machine that Amaero calls the largest selective laser-melting (SLM) machine available. The machine is capable of sintering together metal layers anywhere from 30 to 200 microns thick.

3D selective laser sintering machine Concept Laser Concept Laser

The X-Line 1000R 3D printer from Concept Laser

The 1,800-lbs machine is about 14-ft. x 10-ft. x 14-ft in size. It can build parts with dimensions as large as 25-in. x 16-in. x 20-in. in size.

The Concept Laser X-Line 1000R printer is capable of producing parts in aluminum, titanium or a nickel based alloy using a 1 kilowatt laser to melt the powdered materials.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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