The Maiden Flight of Boeing 777X with More Than 300 3D-Printed Parts
News from the 3D printing industry | 20 November 2021
The long-awaited first flight of Boeing 777X took off from Everett, Washington on January 25, 2020, after being cancelled for two consecutive days due to unfavorable weather conditions. This marks a significant day for the 3D printing industry as each of the twin GE9X engines is equipped with more than 300 3D-printed parts. The entire process was webcasted by Boeing to record and share this significant moment with the public.
As an upgrade and integration of the 777 and 787 families, Boeing 777X is the largest and most fuel-efficient twin-engine jet. Its new aerodynamic design and the GE9X engines enable it to reduce fuel use, emissions, and operating costs 10 percent. It might seem unrealistic to state that the world’s largest twin-engine jet with the world’s biggest engine, namely the GE9X engine, is also the most fuel-efficient one. However, the engineering team was able to leverage cutting-edge materials and technologies, such as 3D printing, to make it a reality.
3D printing plays a crucial role in the production of GE9X. In the past, engineers were often restricted by the manufacturing processes; however, 3D printing allows the engineers at GE Aviation’s Additive Technology Center (ATC) to design and produce parts that are actually too expensive or even impossible to produce using the traditional methods.
“Now you can take those limitations away and design the best thing for the engine, not the best thing for manufacturing.”, Antroine Townes, site leader for the ATC.
The engineers at ATC were also able to reduce part counts by combining hundreds of engines parts into just a few 3D-printed components, such as the fuel nozzle and the fan blades. Moreover, the flexibility of 3D printing allows them to redesign and innovate at a much faster pace compared to conventional processes, such as stamping or casting.
The use of 3D printing in the aviation industry is actually not something new. Airbus has also 3D printed components of Airbus A350 XWB as 3D printing allows smaller batches of components to be produced more easily and quickly. Furthermore, 3D-printed parts are lighter than and just as strong as those produced using traditional methods.
The performance of Boeing 777X demonstrates how 3D printing adds values to not only the manufacturing process but also the design of components. With the advancement of 3D printing, manufacturers and engineers will be able to break the limitations and produce parts with better quality and performance.