3D printing has just reached another major milestone as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has officially approved GE’s T25 as the first 3D printed part cleared for use on a commercial jet engine.
GE is now working with Boeing to retrofit over 400 of its GE90-94B engines — used on the modern 777 — with the new part.
But before you get second thoughts about ever flying again, it’s important to note that this part wasn’t created using the consumer-grade 3D printers that churn out toys, smartphone cases, and other plastic trinkets. The fist-sized silver metal housing designed to protect a compressor inlet temperature sensor from icing was created using a 3D printer using additive manufacturing techniques. But instead of extruding plastic from a heated nozzle, a highly-accurate laser is directed at layer after layer of cobalt-chrome powder to slowly build up the part over time.
What you’re left with is a part made from lightweight cobalt-chrome alloy metal that’s just as strong and durable as parts made with more traditional manufacturing techniques like metal stamping or milling. Except that using a 3D printer means these parts are actually faster to produce and refine, they can be far more complex in their design, and they result in little to no wasted material during production.