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The advent of 3D printed jet engine nozzles is here, even if it raises new debates about two opposting levels of manufacturing. You've likely heard plenty about additive manufacturing as the main drive toward getting 3D printers into the mainstream. Even the White House has invested heavily in getting additive manufacturing into overdrive so it can help create everything from automotive parts to prosthetic limbs.
While the above is already being done and helping many people, printing jet engine nozzles is a more complex endeavor in 3D printing. Even if additive manufacturing may become a household term, many don't associate traditional manufacturing with the words subtractive manufacturing. It's the latter where creating jet nozzles is being argued to be more reliable, at least in the immediate term.
This additive vs. subtractive manufacturing debate started recently through a report in Forbes about 3D printers creating jet engine nozzles. It places a debate about how far 3D printing should go in manufacturing specific mechanical parts.
GE's Role in Leading the Way
When GE managed to start printing jet engine nozzles through additive manufacturing, it took them a decade to help perfect their printing technique. While they've successfully printed the nozzles, it's a complicated process of formulation between the metal powder and laser sintering on the printer. It has to be carefully monitored to assure nothing goes wrong, which can be a potential cost burden for most companies.
With GE having the resources available to invest in the above, they've helped lead the way in letting jet engine nozzles become a part of the additive manufacturing renaissance. Regardless, how far do we have to go before it becomes a mainstream endeavor in aerospace manufacturing?
Subtractive Manufacturing May Hang Around a While
As noted in the above Forbes report, subtractive manufacturing for aerospace parts has become quite expensive when compared to 3D printing. Conversely, additive manufacturing isn't quite as accurate at creating nozzles as traditional manufacturing is.
Because of this debate, there could be a bit of a waiting period ahead on assuring additive manufacturing becomes more accurate in printing aerospace parts. Right now, more thorough inspections need to be done when a nozzle is printed to assure the proper dimensions were adhered to. Scanning can sometimes help, despite the extra expense involved in purchasing scanners.
Regardless of these threats, additive manufacturing is here to stay and evolving nearly every month into something greater. Before the end of the decade, those accuracy issues will likely be solved. In the meantime, it could be sped up a little more with some investments in better quality control to assure printer accuracy.