GE has been at the forefront of additive manufacturing for a while. Though not alone in seeing the benfits from this technology, GE is touting an interesting example of what this means. They explain that their new ATP has 855 parts eliminated because of additive manufacturing.
To date Textron has been the only OEM to select this engine for their forthcoming Cessna Denali, which is aimed at the Pilatus PC-12. There had been rumors that Textron might have another announcement at NBAA but this did not happen.
One might want to consider this for a minute: GE managed to replace 855 parts with 12. For anyone that knows what servicing an aero engine can cost, the news is very intriguing. So we expect this new engine to much cheaper to service. The engine could also be relatively light given the use of additive manufacturing to create big parts as one and containing what formerly would have been many parts. So far, so good.
But then there’s the other side of the story. Creating these parts using additive manufacturing takes a long time. The machines that do this work are expensive. Over time, of course, the process is cheaper and probably quicker than the previous process. Then consider another item – where are aircraft owners going to get spares from? It is unlikely that any MRO is going to invest in these machines. Besides, will GE share their additive manufacturing IP with a third party? Not a tough question, right? Anyone needing parts will have to go back to GE. And this is not just GE – all the engine makers are going to do this. Consequently the entire engine pricing business is going to evolve.
As engine OEMs are able to simplify their manufacturing processes, inevitably cutting costs, they are going to be able to offer compelling deals to aircraft OEMs. But what they “lose” on the first deal they more than make up in repair costs. We have already seen that power-by-the-hour is growing more attractive. This will reinforce engine OEMs to ensure only parts they make are used. Expect more news on this going forward.