March and April are special months for college basketball fans around the world. Why? It’s this time each year that the annual NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments take place. As usual, this year’s tournaments turned out to be just as exciting and unpredictable as fans have come to expect.
One of the fan-favorite activities for the tournament is guessing the winner of each game through a bracket, an activity thought to have been popularized back in 1977 at a Staten Island bar. It might sound straightforward to predict all the winners, but as any hardcore college basketball fan would quickly tell you, it has never been done before. The odds of filling out a perfect bracket are calculated at 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (that’s 9.2 quintillion!).
The good news for pilots, airlines, and aviation enthusiasts everywhere is that GE Aviation has been working on its own bracket. And this one is perfect every time. There’s just one minor difference: It’s 3D-printed with a laser beam.
Back in November 2018, GE Aviation received approval to replace a traditional bracket on the GEnx-2B engine with an additive manufactured bracket. Additive manufacturing has taken a leading role in recent years at GE, most notably with the hundreds of thousands of 3-D printed fuel nozzles that have been produced at additive manufacturing sites like GE Aviation’s Auburn, Alabama, facility. The new bracket, used for the power door opening system (PDOS), allows the GEnx’s fan cowl to be easily opened and shut for quick maintenance checks. It was a breakthrough for the groups involved—and a lot like a championship-winning basketball team, teamwork was the driving force.
According to Eric Gatlin, the general manager for the additive integrated product team at GE Aviation, his team’s partnership with the team at GE Additive led to the PDOS bracket taking the mantle as the fastest design-to-production piece since GE Aviation started integrating additive technologies into its jet engines.
“As we continue thinking about the many parts we can design, redesign, and manufacture on GE Additive machines, I’m looking forward to putting both our teams and the technology through their paces,” Gatlin said in November.
The best part for both teams? The high-tech bracket is 10 percent lighter than the previous iteration, reduces production waste by 90 percent, and has helped reduce cost by being produced in-house.
This milestone comes on the heels of another giant milestone for the GEnx program—the 15th anniversary of the GEnx’s official launch. Powering both the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Boeing 747-8, the GEnx has matured into a highly efficient aircraft engine, says GEnx program manager Kathy MacKenzie.
“By next year, the engine will have accumulated more than 24 million flight hours in a mature, stable configuration, and we couldn’t be prouder,” she said.
Perhaps most striking about the GEnx’s success is where it started. When GE Aviation decided to move forward with the program, engineers wiped the slate clean; although the engine would be based on the proven architecture of the highly-successful GE90, it wasn’t going to rest on the laurels of that engine’s popularity. That decision allowed some of the most advanced jet engine technology in the world to become key players in the GEnx.
The high-pressure compressor, lean-burning TAPS combustor, and integration of lightweight, durable composite materials contributed to the GEnx’s technological leap. Those technologies contributed to a 15 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, allowing the GEnx to take up the mantle as the most efficient engine in its thrust class. The customer was top-of-mind in each of those alterations. A more lightweight, efficient engine can save millions in fuel cost for an airline each year while reducing NOx emissions. Fifteen years later, engineers are still discovering new ways to optimize the GEnx’s efficiency, implementing new technologies like the additive PDOS bracket to keep this engine on the forefront of aviation innovation.
So, while GE Aviation’s bracket isn’t going to see the basketball court anytime soon, you can still think of it and GE’s other additive technologies as the first few baskets of a scoring run—momentum building up on the way toward a big win.