Additive technology has radically changed the way the world thinks about design, materials, processes and manufacturing — and GE is leading the way. GE Additive’s machines build parts layer-by-layer, enabling geometric freedom and previously unheard-of design possibilities.
These machines are being used in many sectors, including the aviation industry. Avio Aero, as part of the GE Aviation family since 2013, has been an early adopter of 3D metal printing processes over the last decade.
In 2013, the Avio Aero Cameri plant — a 3D printing factory which resembles a blue and gray jewelry box made of steel and glass — opened as the home of additively manufactured parts for aircraft engines. And soon, another brand-new 3D printing factory will open in Southern Italy. GE Additive machines are present in both factories.
Simply put, additive manufacturing machines are able to 3D print objects, such as metal engine parts, hand-drawn by a design engineer. With design possibilities now endless, engineers are thinking differently to create new opportunities. And this is exactly what the Additive Design & Technologies team at Avio Aero is doing — studying and developing additive solutions for engine programs, including the GE9X and GE Catalyst. In the GE Catalyst alone, a total of 855 conventionally manufactured parts has been reduced to 12 additive parts.
Lorenzo Fattorini is an additive manufacturing design and process engineer at Avio Aero. He joined the team in September 2017, where he began working on the GE Catalyst engine program. That experience opened doors to a new development program and today he is working on the Racer, a next-generation helicopter by Airbus Helicopters.
We caught up with Fattorini for GE Additive’s “Behind the Layers.” Here is an edited version of that conversation.
The Bike Shop: When did you first get involved in Additive? And what attracted you to the industry?
Fattorini: My very first experience with additive manufacturing was a course held in my university. I was incredibly fascinated by this completely new and disruptive technology. The newly unleashed ways of thinking and designing parts were the aspects that mostly attracted me. Optimization, simplification and freedom: key features of this technology that we all should apply in everything we do.
TBS: What is the coolest Additive project you have worked on thus far?
Fattorini: Two projects come to mind. The Catalyst combustor is an incredible part. It’s advanced design, with holes pattern, is inserted in a complex additive shape. This component is an incredible source of learning, for its technical complexity and difficulty in manufacturing.
The second one is the Racer ACOC. It’s the most advanced heat exchanger designed, with integrated cored ducts and advanced shaped fins. The component aims to be super optimized, to provide new levels of performance.
TBS: How has additive manufacturing changed your way of thinking?
Fattorini: Additive manufacturing opens designers’ mind. The possibilities it offers forces engineers to completely change the classical thinking schemas in order to leverage the real additive power. Have you ever thought about a reticular gearbox? Me either, but it can be possible! It is not always easy to overcome decades of legacy designing and thinking. It will take a while, as all the big revolutions do. But to me, the best part is collaborating with my colleagues and seeing that, project by project, all of us get more used to this freedom. Then we are able to provide innovative and brand-new design solutions, achievable only through additive.
TBS: How are you harnessing digital and additive together?
Fattorini: Digital is really important for additive manufacturing, especially in this phase of additive life and its introduction in the market. All data available is key to understanding the possible manufacturing issues and improving the process itself. Do you need to identify the optimum parameter set to print a specific feature? You need data. We have to abruptly increase the data flow from machines to users, track all printing parameters available and introduce new functionalities on the machine. And we need data to possibly correct the process in real time, if a deviation is detected. Even auto-tune of the process is done by the machine itself, thanks to data tracking.
TBS: What has surprised you about working in Additive?
Fattorini: The interest this new technology generates inside the company. I know that we as GE are focusing a lot on this, but the genuine interest of my colleagues to actively contribute to projects amazes me. It is tangible. People want to better understand the whole process and its secrets, and how they can use it for their work. It is really important to speed up the adoption of additive, and it is really motivating for all of the team. Plus, it is really fun to follow the whole process, both the design part and the manufacturing aspect.
TBS: What is the best advice you received during your career?
Fattorini: ‘Think outside of the box, but bring concrete and reliable results’ is the most powerful one I can think of. Freedom and pragmatism — these are the key habits a successful engineer must have.