Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne have been using laser metal-deposition technology to build and repair defence aircraft in a process that’s similar to 3D printing.
The team believes the technology could be “game-changing” for the aviation industry
“It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” said Professor Milan Brandt who is working on the project.
As a somewhat nerdy by-product of working in an industry that looks at manufacturing the world differently, I too find myself often viewing the world through an additive lens. Perhaps the place I do this most is when traveling on an airplane where I tend to scour the cabin for places where additive manufacturing (AM) could be present someday soon.
The lifespan of an aircraft, typically between 20 and 30 years, makes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and retrofit, both big and necessary businesses. Think of every plane you’ve been on in the last few years that still featured a now-defunct charging socket from the 1980s – aircraft are not changing overnight to keep up-to-date with consumer expectations. However, Airbus’ Global Market Forecast projects that over the next 20 years the commercial aircraft upgrades services market will be worth 180 billion USD.
Additive manufacturing—colloquially known as 3D printing—is starting to revolutionize military logistics. Recently, a U.S. Marine Corps unit— Combat Logistic Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit—provided a replacement part for a forward deployed Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121).
The aircraft in question had a small plastic component on its landing gear door wear out. While the piece was relatively small and insignificant, it nonetheless would have required the entire door assembly to be replaced. However, the Marines were able to print out a new bumper and install it in a matter of days rather than waiting for weeks for a new replacement door assembly to arrive.
Achieving the highest quality standards is crucial in the aviation industry, where even the smallest of defects can have serious consequences. Besides the expansion of e-mobility, one of the most important recent developments in this field is the ability to produce components using additive manufacturing.
This is particularly beneficial in the aviation sector, where every single gram of weight saved can reduce flight operating costs. This is why toolcraft not only produces aircraft parts conventionally using CNC machining, but employs additive manufacturing processes as well. The company covers the complete process chain, from design and manufacture to quality assurance and testing. 3D metal printing has been an established manufacturing technique in its own right for many years, having successfully made the transition from being used for prototype production. Nadcap certification of the process is a further milestone in its development.
Boeing is co-operating with Swiss engineering group Oerlikon to jointly develop additive manufacturing processes in a bid to accelerate the technology’s wider employment.
Oerlikon says it signed a five-year collaboration agreement with the US airframer to create “standard materials and processes” for the production of “structural” titanium components through 3D printing.
“The research will initially focus on industrialising titanium powder bed fusion additive manufacturing and ensuring parts made with this process meet the flight requirements of the US Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense,” says Oerlikon.
Vanguard of the additive manufacturing industry Stratasys has seen its 3D printing technology take off in the form of in-flight parts on aeroplanes, and in June 2017 the company conquered additive manufacturing in aerospace by launching its Fortus 900mc Aircraft Interiors Certification Solution.
There is much more to additive manufacturing for aerospace than getting parts approved by the OEM for installation in a working aircraft. Eric Bredin, Vice-President Marketing EMEA for Stratasys, set out just what it takes to get a Stratasys-printed machine into the lower stratosphere.
“In general, aerospace is a very interesting segment as it’s a market in which we have a lot to play with,” he explained. “What we are trying to influence is concept design right through to production and there are many areas in this industry where we can be very active.”
Latécoère is deploying Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing throughout its design and production process.
French aircraft design and manufacturing group Latécoère is deploying Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing throughout its design and production process. Latécoère – which services aerospace giants including Airbus, Bombardier and Dassault – is using its Stratasys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer for both rapid prototyping and production tooling. According to Simon Rieu, composite and additive manufacturing manager at Latécoère’s R&D and Innovation Center, the adoption of this technology has been transformational for both design and manufacturing.
“Additive manufacturing has integrated seamlessly into our design and production process, and has seen us enjoy improved lead-times, reduced costs and enhanced operational efficiency,” he says. “As the requirements of the aerospace industry become more demanding, we’re also mindful of the need to maintain our competitive edge, and Stratasys additive manufacturing enables us to meet that objective.”
Emirates has for the first time used cutting-edge 3D printing technology to manufacture components for its aircraft cabins.
The airline used Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), a new 3D printing technique to produce video monitor shrouds.
Emirates has worked with 3D Systems, a US based 3D printing equipment and material manufacturer and services provider, and with UUDS, a European aviation Engineering and Certification Office and Services Provider based in France, to successfully print the first batch of 3D printed video monitor shrouds using 3D Systems’ Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology platform.
The airline has also 3D printed, received certification for and installed aircraft cabin air vent grills for on-board trials in its first class cabins.
On the ground floor of 3D printing technology for years, aerospace manufacturers first began adopting the various additive manufacturing (AM) processes for use in prototyping. With each advance in the technology, they have been there as AM was used for the creation of tooling to, most recently, the mass manufacturing of end parts.
GE increased its role in the industry dramatically when it acquired two metal 3D printer manufacturers and formed GE Additive. GE, however, isn’t the only aerospace company that’s taken AM to the skies. Also ahead of the pack is Boeing, which has been flying 3D-printed parts since 2003.
North American 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys is supporting the development of the “world’s first all-electric commuter plane,” while Belgian 3D printing company Materialise has a key role in the development of an electric race car.
Based in Israel, Eviation Aircraft is racing to complete development of its ‘Alice Commuter’ to be the first all-electric commuter plane in the skies. To do so, the company has incorporated 3D printing to speed up development and reduce costs.
Constituting of Eindhoven University of Technology students, InMotion’s incentive to implement 3D printing is to reduce weight in all of its races. Using Materialise’s 3D printing services, InMotion has incorporated crucial metal parts in its IM/e racecar.