In aircraft business, fuel efficiency is the key metric upon which airlines rise and fall. Good example of successful strategies are gulf carries, all of whom are abandoned older planes in favor of brand new ones, which significantly reduce the fuel consumption. For example, a passenger on Emirates Airlines flies as much as 87 mpg, while older aircraft belong to the sub 60 mpg range (numbers are derived from seat miles per gallon metric).
The key to fuel efficiency relies on components that reached its limits in terms of conventional manufacturing. At the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow, GE Aviation, a division of General Electric announced that it plans to build and open a completely new manufacturing facility in Alabama. The new manufacturing plant will build aircraft engine parts using 3D Printers. More precisely, a new fuel nozzle which cannot be manufactured using conventional methods.
This move makes GE Aviation the second large aerospace manufacturer to commit to 3D printing. The announcement comes few weeks after Elon Musk made a splash at the Dragon V2 manned spacecraft launch, stating that several key rocket parts will be manufactured using 3D printing. However, GE is the first manufacturer that is launching a large-scale, volume production of fuel nozzles build using this revolutionary manufacturing method.
The nozzles will be used in CFM International Leap-1 engine, which is the default powerplant for the next-generation of Boeing’s narrowbody planes, 737 MAX, an engine option for the Airbus A320neo series, as well as the Chinese Comac C919 planes (if they ever take off). Overall, GE Aviation needs to manufacture around 130,000 fuel nozzles for the new engines alone (excluding spares), probably making this part the highest volume 3D printed part… for now.