With close to 90 sites around the world, GE Aviation’s employees design components, code programs, manufacture engines and provide services in a variety of far-flung locations every day. We developed the “Unusual View” series to feature these facilities and offer an inside perspective on the places that are at the center of innovation in the Aviation industry.
Beyond the lobby of GE Aviation’s Additive Technology Center (ATC) in West Chester, Ohio, the shop floor is a pristine space steadily humming with over 90 additive machines. It’s louder than expected but the noise is a testament to the level of activity underway. Inside the ATC, massive metal-melting machines operate nearly 24/7, using advanced 3D printing technology to construct everything from fuel nozzles to gearboxes while reducing important metrics like weight, cost and complexity of design.
Visitors most often tour the perimeter of the shop floor, with eight Concept Laser X LINE 2000R machines serving as the first stop. The ATC houses one of the world’s largest collection of these machines, which are themselves the largest of their kind. They are undeniably impressive, but to get a better view of the scale of production, viewers must step inside the “Octagon.”
The Octagon is the ATC’s primary office space. It serves as a hub for the approximately 300 designers, machinists and engineers who work to develop programs and codes for the additive technologies that surround them. The Octagon is also the one space where people are not dwarfed by automated tools, even though they are still outnumbered by computers and other technologies. The soundproof windows provide a reprieve from the noise and allow for a nearly 360-degree view of the shop floor. This is not to say that the Octagon is any less busy; it just has a hum of its own.
The second floor of the Octagon is still quieter, with two conference rooms that overlook the ground floor. From here, the past and future of additive technology is visible: One conference room overlooks 40 other machines; the other has an unobstructed view of the Concept Laser machines that dominate the entrance.
The X LINE 2000R machines are special because of their size and their dual-laser capacity. Whereas many machines are limited to palm-sized outputs, these Concept Lasers can produce items more than 30 inches long by 15 inches wide by 14 inches tall. This is a game-changer for additive manufacturing.
From up above, it is also easier to see the tanks that hold the titanium and cobalt chromium powder that fuels the machines. This powder is a critical element in the process and explains the all-white interior of the ATC. While the X LINE machines are designed with higher safety practices in mind—to prevent any leaks or exposure—the white walls are critical for detecting loose particles.
The white space also acts as a kind of “blank canvas” for appreciating the metal-melting 3D printers. For those at work inside the Octagon, the steady buzz of additive parts being created serves as both a reminder of a burgeoning market and an indication of where the future is taking us.