If you needed any more proof that you can make absolutely anything with a 3D printer, check out this video from GE. To showcase the versatility of 3D printing as a manufacturing process, a team of engineers at GE recently built a fully-functional, backpack-sized jet engine made entirely from 3D-printed parts. And it’s not just for show either — the team actually fired the engine up and took it up to 33,000 RPMs to demonstrate how robust the parts are.
Now, obviously, since this is a jet turbine we’re talking about here, it wasn’t printed in ABS with the latest MakerBot model. Instead, the engine and all of its various internal parts were manufactured over the course of several years using a technique known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) — a process in which a laser is aimed at a bed of fine metal particles to selectively melt and fuse them together to create an object layer-by-layer. It’s not the fastest printing method in the world, but the resulting parts are just as strong and reliable as those made via traditional casting or machining techniques.
The cool thing about the turbine — well, besides that it’s 3D-printed — is that it’s not just a miniature version of a full-blown jet engine. Instead, the design is a modified version of the engine design you’d find on an RC plane, which is far simpler than the jet engines you’d find strapped beneath the wings of a 757.
Once all the individual parts were completed and the engine was assembled, the researchers placed it in a test cell and fired it up — which you can see in the video above. It’s pretty impressive, and bodes well for the future of 3D printing. The fact that a fully-functional turbine could be produced entirely through additive manufacturing lends credence to the notion that 3D printing is growing up, and is good for more than making plastic novelties.