On Sunday last week the maiden flight of the Boeing 777X marked an important date in the history of additive manufacturing for the twin GE9X engines driving the aircraft. Each GE9X features roughly 300 3D-printed parts made by GE Additive’s Technology Center in Ohio and the team at Avio Aero in Italy. The event was so momentous that Boeing tracked the flight live that day. An upgrade to the Boeing 777, launched in 1994, the 777X is instantly recognizable for its carbon fiber, folding wing tips, which allow the craft to park in the same bays as other planes.
One might wonder the worth of celebrating the flight of a new aircraft, given the massive carbon footprint of the aerospace industry, but, unless flying becomes more heavily regulated, any improvement in emissions is worth noting. The reduction in emissions was achieved in part by a new aerodynamic design and the GE9X engines. As wide as the body of a Boeing 737, the GE9X is the world’s largest engine on any commercial plane. This size was achieved through the use of advanced fiber composites that made it possible to drop the number of blades in the system from 22, as seen in the GE90, to just 16. In addition, the GE9X features the now famous 3D-printed fuel nozzle, which reduced part count from 20 to just one.