Proof That 3-D Printing Will Change Aviation Forever

General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) recently held a contest for the online engineering community to help solve one of its biggest aviation challenges and knocked it out of the park. The aviation giant asked "makers," or do-it-yourselfers with engineering experience, to take a conventionally manufactured metal jet engine loading bracket and reimagine it for 3-D metal printing manufacturing to achieve a lighter weight, but still maintain its strength. The community response was outstanding -- nearly 700 designs were submitted from 56 countries.

The winner, M. Arie Kurniawan, an engineer with zero aviation engineering experience living in Indonesia, won first place and took home a $7,000 prize. Kurniawan's design reduced the bracket's overall weight by nearly 84% while still maintaining the strength requirements necessary for real-world conditions, which at times needs to withstand loads as high as 9,500 pounds.


The winning 3-D-printed bracket. Source: GE

The motivating factor
One of 3-D printing's greatest advantages over conventional manufacturing is that it can make complicated objects that would otherwise be extremely difficult to manufacture. Not only does this invite a higher level of creative freedom into the design process, but it also gives engineers the opportunity to design a much lighter-weight part without having to sacrifice on structural integrity.

A conventional jet-engine bracket typically weighs around 100 pounds, and it usually takes six brackets to mount one engine to a plane's wing. Since the 3-D-printed equivalent has proved to be 84% lighter, that translates to a weight reduction of more than 1,000 pounds on a typical twin-engine jetliner. Bear in mind we're only talking about 12 redesigned brackets inside a plane that has thousands upon thousands of brackets and fasteners. As 3-D printing continues advancing beyond engine brackets, the potential net weight savings and corresponding fuel savings could be absolutely game-changing for airline operators.

The original bracket design. Source: GE.

Everyone's a winner
Pushing the boundaries of 3-D metal printing for aviation applications has significant benefits across the entire spectrum. From a manufacturing standpoint, 3-D printing can reduce assembly time because it can create more complicated structures than conventional manufacturing methods, freeing up valuable resources on the production floor. In addition, the implied weight reduction and fuel savings could allow GE to sell its 3-D-printed products at a premium to conventionally manufactured parts.

From an operational standpoint, the weight savings will translate to cost savings for fuel, which, in a competitive environment like commercial aviation, could lead to lower airfare prices for passengers. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the help of the community-driven effort.

The power of community
What's so incredible about this story is that the project's true potential would've been almost impossible to realize without the community driving the design effort. Without the community, the chances that GE would have found this engineer based in Indonesia were slim to none. It really speaks volumes about how open collaboration can achieve far greater results than what's possible alone.

Thanks to this worldwide collaborative effort, a challenge that has plagued aviation experts for years was solved in eight weeks. If you thought the maker community was just a bunch of do-yourselfers who like to tinker in their parents' basement, you'd be sorely mistaken. Open collaboration and 3-D printing just changed aviation forever.

How 3-D printing makes America great again
For the first time since the early days of this country, we're in a position to dominate the global manufacturing landscape thanks to a single, revolutionary technology: 3-D printing. Although this sounds like something out of a science-fiction novel, the success of 3-D printing is already a foregone conclusion to many manufacturers around the world. The trick now is to identify the companies -- and thereby the stocks -- that will prevail in the battle for market share. To see the three companies that are currently positioned to do so, simply download our invaluable free report on the topic by clicking here now.


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2013, at 12:38 PM, Oliver360 wrote:

    A $7,000 prize was all he got, when you consider the savings that will be made out of this thing?

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2013, at 3:53 PM, TMFTopDown wrote:

    Oliver360,

    He owns an engineering company out in Indonesia, so the notoriety is huge, not to mention, he's now on GE's radar, which could most definitely lead to future jobs.

    Also, there were two rounds of prizes, so he took home $8,000 in total, which is pretty solid for 8 weeks of work.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Steve

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2013, at 7:29 PM, JoeDCT wrote:

    The real story is the deceptive publicity stunt ge has pulled to hype this unproven technology. The "original" bracket is not real, it would have already been lightened considerably with conventional methods by any competent engineer. To believe that chunk of metal went through ge extensive design review process and is actually flying is incredibly naive. Secondly, the winning design doesnt appear to me to have utilized additive benefits. From the view shown, there is no reason it couldn't be a simple casting at a fraction of the cost. Lastly, no good designs from the US? No, that would defeat the purpose of the marketing campaign / publicity stunt.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2013, at 6:51 PM, bbunny wrote:

    From Engineering.com:

    According to GE, “Kurniawan’s bracket had the best combination of stiffness and light weight. The original bracket weighed 2,033 grams (4.48 pounds), but Kurniawan was able to slash its weight by nearly 84 percent to just 327 grams (0.72 pounds).”

    Next time you might want to check your facts. The original bracket didn't even come close to weighing 100 pounds. Actual weight savings per engine would be around 22.5 lbs, not the more than 500 lbs Mr. Heller implied in his article.

    http://www.engineering.com/3DPrinting/3DPrintingArticles/Art...

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2013, at 1:01 AM, TMFTopDown wrote:

    bbunny -- These were significantly scaled down models for the sake of the contest and the current limitations of the technology.

    Please see this Google Hangout with the GE Global Director of Innovation explaining that the original bracket (not in the model form) weighs about 100 pounds. I've queued up the relevant segment here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocx_a7OkEss&feature=share...

    Thanks for commenting!

    Steve Heller

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