It seems as though 3D printing is the current wave of the future. This additive manufacturing process might be able to make anything imaginable one day, even perhaps aviation parts for Cessna aircraft.  NASA has even provided funding to create a 3D printer designed to make edible food. While this all may seem like far-fetched science fiction, 3D printing could have a tangible impact on aviation sooner rather than later.

GE Aviation has announced that it plans to ramp up production of 3D printed jet parts. They recently signed a Joint Technology Development Agreement with Sigma Labs, Inc. to implement Sigma’s PrintRite3D, an in-process inspection technology for additive manufactured metal jet components. PrintRite3D is designed to monitor the quality and geometry of metal components created through the additive 3D printing process.

Any 3D printed parts weigh less than parts created through conventional means, as the printing process produces single parts rather than the current complex assemblies. The process takes digital designs from computer aided design (CAD) software and lays down layer upon layer of plastic, metal, and composite materials to create physical models, production parts, and numerous other items.

GE Aviation plans to produce more than 100,000 additive manufactured components by 2020. Each fuel nozzle will be up to 25 percent lighter and five-times more durable than their traditional counterparts.

Imagine a day when you are able to print your own Lycoming Engine parts or Continental Motors cylinders. Having a printer in your home that can create any object on a whim may seem like something that belongs in the distant future. However, maybe the future is only a few years away—for general aviation, at least.