First Jet Engines with 3D-Printed Nozzles Delivered to Airbus
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on April 26, 2016 | 17675 views

With the A350 XWB aircraft, Airbus is working its way toward creating a plane with the most 3D-printed parts in existence. It is set to carry not only more than 1,000 3D-printed plastic parts, but also a massive metal component for its jet engine. 

However, one 3D-printed aircraft part seems to have caught the media’s attention and motivated Airbus and other aerospace manufacturers to start down this path. A 3D-printed fuel nozzle for the LEAP jet engine demonstrates to the world just how efficient 3D printing could be in the high-stakes, high-cost world of airplane manufacturing. 

Now, Airbus has received the very first production LEAP-1A engines, marking the historic moment in which a critical 3D-printed part will be integrated into a commercial aircraft.

CFM International’s 3D printed fuel nozzle reduces part count from 18 to just one. (Image courtesy of GE.)
CFM International’s 3D printed fuel nozzle reduces part count from 18 to just one. (Image courtesy of GE.)

What makes the 3D-printed fuel nozzle in the LEAP-1A engine unique is that it brings new efficiency to the functioning of a jet engine, both in terms of design and fuel savings. 

In terms of design, previous fuel nozzles were made up of 18 different parts. Because of 3D printing’s ability to fabricate complex shapes, 18 components were reduced to just one. In turn, the redesign, along with other design innovations, allows for an estimated 15 percent reduction in fuel costs and, therefore, CO2 emissions, allowing for a somewhat greener jet engine.

As the aerospace industry is pressured to shift to sustainable energy, and, considering the potential savings of using less fuel, manufacturers have seen this fuel nozzle as an impressive case study in how 3D printing can make aerospace design more efficient. 

In addition to the 19 fuel nozzles that make up each LEAP engine, other features include the first use of ceramic matrix composites (CMC) in a commercial engine, a low-pressure turbine with titanium aluminide blades, and fan blades and a fan case made from 3D-woven carbon fiber composites.

The LEAP-1A engine features next generation technology for greater fuel efficiency and decreased CO2 emissions. (Image courtesy of CFM International.)
The LEAP-1A engine features next generation technology for greater fuel efficiency and decreased CO2 emissions. (Image courtesy of CFM International.)
 Developed through CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran, the LEAP engine series has already received over 13,400 orders valued at $140 billion from customers such as Airbus, Boeing and Comac. 

After obtaining Federal Aviation Administration clearance and undergoing numerous tests, the first two production LEAP-1A engines were delivered to Airbus on April 2, two days ahead of the scheduled date. The engines will be installed on an Airbus A320neo aircraft; the airline that purchased the plane has not yet been disclosed. 

Now that the first two LEAP engines have been delivered, there are still 8,898 left to go. Airbus and other aerospace manufacturers are working to incorporate 3D printing further into the supply chain. Ten years from today, your memories will include “No Smoking” signs on planes, Wi-Fi that wasn’t ubiquitous and jet engines that did not have 3D-printed fuel nozzles.

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