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3-D printed part from an airplane turbine

Yesterday, we posted a tech memoir by Steven Ashley about the slow rise of 3D printing — from sci-fi fantasy, to toy, to creator of real tools. Towards the end of the piece, Ashley mentions how GE is starting manufacture aircraft engine parts using 3D printers. Here's the excerpt:

Rows of industrial 3D-printing units in plants will soon be fabricating turbine engine parts—fuel nozzles—from cobalt-chromium alloy powders. Each one of GE’s new LEAP jet engine will contain nineteen of the fuel nozzles, which are up to 25 percent lighter and five-times more durable than traditionally manufactured fuel nozzles. In airplanes cutting weight saves fuel. The LEAP engine has already amassed more than 4,500 orders, so between it and the new GE9X engine, the corporation could end up making as many as 100,000 additive manufactured components by 2020.

In the picture above, you can see one of those fuel nozzles, in all its 3D-printed glory.

Read the rest

Why (some) manufacturing is returning to the USA

General Electric has moved some of its key appliance-manufacturing work back to the USA, re-opening "Appliance Park," a megafactory in Louisville, KY. The company is finding it cheaper to do some manufacturing in the US relative to China, thanks to spiking oil costs, plummeting natural gas prices in the US, rising Chinese wages, falling US wages, and, most of all, the efficiencies that arise from locating workers next to managers and designers.

The GeoSpring suffered from an advanced-technology version of “IKEA Syndrome.” It was so hard to assemble that no one in the big room wanted to make it. Instead they redesigned it. The team eliminated 1 out of every 5 parts. It cut the cost of the materials by 25 percent. It eliminated the tangle of tubing that couldn’t be easily welded. By considering the workers who would have to put the water heater together—in fact, by having those workers right at the table, looking at the design as it was drawn—the team cut the work hours necessary to assemble the water heater from 10 hours in China to two hours in Louisville.

In the end, says Nolan, not one part was the same.

So a funny thing happened to the GeoSpring on the way from the cheap Chinese factory to the expensive Kentucky factory: The material cost went down. The labor required to make it went down. The quality went up. Even the energy efficiency went up.

GE wasn’t just able to hold the retail sticker to the “China price.” It beat that price by nearly 20 percent. The China-made GeoSpring retailed for $1,599. The Louisville-made GeoSpring retails for $1,299.

The Insourcing Boom [The Atlantic/Charles Fishman]

Automated system to identify and repair potential weak-spots in 3D models before they're printed

"Stress Relief: Improving Structural Strength of 3-D Printable Objects," a paper presented at SIGGRAPH 2012 from Purdue University's Bedrich Benes demonstrated an automated system for predicting when 3D models would produce structural weaknesses if they were fed to 3D printers, and to automatically modify the models to make them more hardy.

Findings were detailed in a paper presented during the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference in August. Former Purdue doctoral student Ondrej Stava created the software application, which automatically strengthens objects either by increasing the thickness of key structural elements or by adding struts. The tool also uses a third option, reducing the stress on structural elements by hollowing out overweight elements.

"We not only make the objects structurally better, but we also make them much more inexpensive," Mech said. "We have demonstrated a weight and cost savings of 80 percent."

The new tool automatically identifies "grip positions" where a person is likely to grasp the object. A "lightweight structural analysis solver" analyzes the object using a mesh-based simulation. It requires less computing power than traditional finite-element modeling tools, which are used in high-precision work such as designing jet engine turbine blades.

New Tool Gives Structural Strength to 3-D Printed Works

Sex doll in a box

The head of an inflatable sex doll is pictured in a box at Ningbo Yamei plastic toy factory, on the outskirts of Fenghua, Zhejiang province, February 13, 2012. The company started producing sex dolls three years ago, and now owns a total of 13 types of dolls at the average price of 100 RMB (16 USD). More than 50,000 sex dolls were sold last year, about fifteen percent of which were exported to Japan, Korea and Turkey, according to the company. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)

How chicken wire is made

Here's a mesmerizing Gabion machine, a massive loom that weaves chicken wire fencing out of wire. Machine grace ahoy.

Chicken Wire Fabrication - Video (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)