Beyond the Private Jet Problem: Exploring a New Fuel-Efficiency Solution With Generative Design

Heather Miller Heather Miller December 23, 2022

2 min read

See how a joint effort between top aviation companies and universities yielded a metal 3D-printed turbine center designed with generative design in Fusion 360.

The joint research effort produced this metal 3D-printed turbine center frame (TCF) casing using direct metal laser melting (DMLM) technology. Image courtesy of GE Aerospace.

Last summer, Kylie Jenner’s 17-minute private jet trip sparked social media outrage. Private jets and fuel waste are increasingly under scrutiny from the public at large. A recent report from Yard provided a who’s-who of celebrity Private jet carbon footprints — from Taylor Swift to Blake Shelton, Oprah, Steven Spielberg, and Jay-Z. 

Private jets are just one component of a huge carbon emissions challenge with the aviation industry. We’re all part of it every time we travel. Celebrities—they’re just like us. (Well, sort of…) 

Global travel and shipping have reached new heights. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), commercial aviation alone produces approximately 2.4% of global carbon emissions. To put that in perspective, this number ranks the industry in between the entire emissions of Germany and Japan. 

Finding a solution is paramount, and the European Union’s Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking is taking action. It has issued approximately €4 billion in grants to research projects aimed at increasing aircraft fuel efficiency. The goal is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% by 2030.  

Joint research for the metal 3D-printed turbine center frame

One part of Clean Aviation’s research effort is MOnACO (short for “manufacturing of a large-scale additive manufacturing component”), with participants including GE Aerospace’s Advanced Technology team in Munich, the Dresden University of Technology, Hamburg University of Technology, and the Autodesk UK team. Their goal? Reimagine the design, optimization, and validation of a large-scale aircraft engine’s turbine center frame and use additive manufacturing. And the hard part? The turbine center frame consists of 100 parts. 

“What we ultimately set out to do was merge those parts into one,” says Andy Harris, a senior principal research engineer at Autodesk Research in London, in a recent Redshift article. “Streamlining the turbine center frame makes the component easier to manufacture and, most important, lighter. By reducing the weight of the turbine center frame, you use less fuel and therefore produce fewer carbon emissions. Also, using less fuel makes the aircraft cheaper to operate. So there’s an economic benefit as well as an environmental benefit.” 

Using generative design in Fusion 360 to find a solution

After defining design parameters and performance requirements in Fusion 360, MOnACO used generative design to evaluate and explore the options. The team rigorously tested structural, fluid, and manufacturing simulations for ideal parts. This was followed by prototyping to understand the behavior and inform the next iterations to improve stiffness, mass reduction, and pressure drop. Autodesk Volumetric Kernel for aerothermal management was a key component for the final iteration. The team also turned to additive manufacturing to find even further efficiencies in the manufacturing process.  

With the final design, a full-scale prototype was manufactured in a GE additive manufacturing facility, with additional post-processing completed at an Autodesk facility for verification. The results were eye-popping mass savings of more than 30%.  

While this is just the very beginning, it’s one step toward helping bring a new level of fuel and carbon emission savings to the aviation industry.  

Learn more about Clean Aviation and MOnACO here

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