Welding revolution

Posted on 4 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

GE Global Research has recently announced new products it hopes will revolutionise the manufacture of products by increasing process efficiency.

One such product, described by GE as the “Superman” of machining technologies, can cut through tough engineering alloys used in aircraft engines and power generation turbines in just a fraction of the time it takes using conventional milling processes. GE believes Blue Arc can remove hours, even days from the complex manufacturing processes necessary to machine off several tons of metal to create the precisely designed components of aircraft engines.

Andy Trimmer, a chemical engineer in the Process Systems Lab at GE Global Research, said: “GE’s Blue Arc technology has given our manufacturing processes new found superpowers. This has been especially useful in aviation, where we’ve been able to reduce the machining of aircraft engine blisks from days to just hours.“

Trimmer added, “In addition to saving time, Blue Arc saves electricity. It requires lower force to achieve high material removal rates compared to conventional machining. Since the equipment does not need to be as heavy duty for withstanding the machining forces, the motors used to drive the axes are smaller and use less energy.”

Luana Iorio, manufacturing technologies leader at GE Global Research, said: “From a sustainability perspective, Blue Arc doesn’t only save time, but it allows us to use less energy. Firms will see their energy bill go down. In this sense, we see it as a very environmentally responsible technology.”

GE is exploring licensing opportunities with machine builders and OEM end users. Blue Arc is a thermal cutting process that is classified as a roughing process. The thermal artifacts are removed using conventional machining.

This technology underscores GE’s commitment to infuse advanced technologies into its manufacturing processes. Global Research is investing in a diverse array of more than 100 manufacturing and inspection technology programs.

Another product that promises to bring positive changes to the manufacturing of industrial products is the high-power hybrid laser arc welding (HLAW) system.

At 20 kW, GE’s system is one of the largest HLAW facilities in North America. It wields enough power to weld steels nearly one-inch thick in a single pass versus the up to a half dozen passes required with current welding technologies.

Going from conventional welding processes to HLAW to weld the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, for example, could have saved nearly 800 tons of weld metal (equal to the weight of more than 600 compact cars) and reduced the welding time by 80%. GE is exploring this technology for application across its infrastructure manufacturing operations, including the oil and gas, power generation, aviation and rail industries.

Iorio commented: “With the work we do, we are very conscious on how to get higher productivity out of our facilities, how to make things more efficiently and lower cost, but there is also the aspect of how we allow our products to have higher performance or higher product attributes through the way we manufacture them.

“Manufacturing is becoming increasingly high-tech, with the introduction of advanced tools and processes that can make products better, faster and at substantially lower costs. HLAW technology is part of a broad portfolio of next generation manufacturing tools GE is developing to improve our manufacturing competitiveness and take product performance to the next level.”

In addition to these capabilities, this new technology has another, substantial advantage: whereas welding has traditionally taken place within a centralised manufacturing operation, which often is a great distance from a finished product’s final destination, the new HLAW system tool will enable parts to be welded onsite, where the product will be located.