Working with colleagues from Deakin University and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), researchers from Australia's Monash University have created the world's first 3D-printed jet engine. While they were at it, they created the world's second one, too. One of them is currently on display at the International Air Show in Avalon, Australia, while the other can be seen at the headquarters of French aerospace company Microturbo, in Toulouse.
A team from the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing and spin-off company Amaero started with an older gas turbine engine contributed by Microturbo (Safran). Still in working order, the small engine was used for auxiliary power in aircraft such as the Falcon 20 business jet.
Led by Prof. Xinhua Wu, the team proceeded to take the engine apart, and scan all the individual components. Using computer models obtained from those scans, a laser was then utilized to selectively melt metal alloy powder, building up two copies of each component in successive layers. When those parts were subsequently assembled, two metal replicas of the original engine were produced.
The project took a year to complete, and received funding from multiple groups including the Australian Research Council. It has reportedly resulted in a number of aerospace companies expressing interest in developing components at the university – using 3D printing, components that previously would have taken months to design and manufacture could be made in weeks.
According to Wu, the next step will be to fine-tune the finish of the components, with testing of a 3D-printed engine expected to take place within a couple of years.
A functioning 3D-printed rocket engine, incidentally, was created by students at the University of California, San Diego in 2013.
Prof. Wu discusses the project in the video below.
Source: Monash University