General Electric Collaboration Targets Jet Engine Efficiency with Generative Design
Aviation industry charts a path to a climate neutral future
By using next-generation additive manufacturing technology to produce cleaner, lighter, and performance-driven gas turbine engine hardware, Autodesk Research helped turn an ambitious vision for aviation into a market-ready solution. This recently completed, research collaboration was funded by Clean Sky 2 program, Europe’s foremost Research Aeronautical body.
During a 3-year R&D program, our team from Autodesk Research partnered with GE Aviation et al. as part of a consortium with the shared goal of increasing the fuel and energy efficiencies of jet engines while reducing environmental impact—regardless of whether the engine powers a large airliner or a light utility craft. Our primary mission was to build a jet engine with more thrust, while burning less energy and emitting less CO2 and NOx.
What we did
Our team led the conceptual design of the Turbine Centre Frame (TCF) casing assembly, which is the primary annulus-shaped structure housed between the low and high-pressure turbine stages of a commercial jet engine, acting as an aerodynamic duct. This critical piece of hardware holds the highly loaded bearing system and is currently made using subtractive and forming processes. These are hugely energy intensive, costly, and waste up to 95% of material. To alleviate the current challenges, we leveraged novel, multi-physics generative design technologies, mainly created by Autodesk Research.
First, generative design was used to create structural reinforcements to ensure the hardware could withstand high stresses and distortions from enormous mechanical and thermal loads. A double conformal lattice structure with variable cell density was formed as a sandwich between the inner and outer skins. This significantly increased the stiffness-to-weight ratio and manufacturing stability while creating insulation between the hot and cold gases, which reduced energy costs and positively affected engine-specific fuel consumption. The overall mass reduction was 30%, which exceeded the original requirement.
In addition, we generatively designed the manifold cooling lines to minimize the resistance of fluid travel. Experimental tests benchmarked and verified the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation to determine the system pressure drop. This resulted in a fluid pressure reduction of up to 91% against baseline, with balanced outlets thanks to the design constraint function.
After we completed the TCF design, it had to be made. The TCF hardware was approximately one meter and manufactured using General Electric’s Laser Powder Bed Fusion development machine, one of the largest metal 3D printers available. One benefit of using a large-scale additive machine was reducing the TCF assembly from 150 to a single monolithic part. Consolidating parts reduces overall assembly costs and supply chain issues, in addition to increasing reliability. In total, the shift from conventional casting to additive manufacturing reduced cost and weight by 30%.
During the project cycle, we used many Autodesk product tools for CAD, CAE, and CAM, including generative design in Fusion 360, 3ds Max, Inventor Nastran, CFD, and Netfabb suite. We also used tools developed by Autodesk Research such as Poseidon, which optimizes the internal fluid channels using novel design objectives and constraints.
Our team worked tirelessly—and succeeded—in ensuring we designed the hardware to print without defects or failures the first time. We did this by applying the new design guidelines for laser powder bed fusion to Inconel 718, which were developed by the Consortium and geared toward large-scale additive manufacturing, then later published in LIA’s Journal of Laser Applications.
During the overall process, only <1% of the material was wasted, which is more sustainable than traditional methods. The outcome of this project has proven to be Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 4. Autodesk Research played a crucial role in providing critical solutions to the aviation industry and recently won the 2022 Autodesk Excellence Award in the category Engineering the Impossible for Product Design & Manufacturing.
To learn more, watch the recording of our Autodesk University 2022 Industry Talk, Taking Generative Design to the Next Level on a Large Jet Engine Component.
Nick Markovic is a Research Manager at Autodesk.
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