Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group has turned to 3D printing to create flight-ready parts at a fraction of the cost and time involved in using traditional manufacturing methods.
The Cambridge-based firm’s latest innovation programme is pushing technological boundaries to reduce weight and increase performance on its fleet of military, civil and business aircraft.
It originally looked at metal additive manufacturing as a solution before discovering that the quality of Stratasys polymer technology – supplied by SYS Systems – could deliver the quality of materials it needed to satisfy industry regulations.
MCAS Iwakuni engineers have devised two products that reduce the time it takes to repair the fighter jets, saving costs for the U.S. Department of Defense. The products help with the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of the fighter jets, covering all tasks carried out to ensure the airworthiness of an flight vehicle.
The 3D printed products include an engine ship kit, designed by the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 (MALS 12), and a plastic ring kit that helps the maintenance of the bearings on the F/A-18’s Gatling gun.
Aerospace has aggressively embraced 3D printing. The industry seeks parts that are lighter without sacrificing strength, and 3D printing meets that challenge.
The aerospace industry was among the first advocates of 3D printing. The airline industry as well as the space industry have been the force behind the evolution of this technology, both manufacturing end-use parts and for prototyping. Aerospace depends on 3D printing to alleviate supply chain constraints, limit warehouse space, and reduce wasted materials from traditional manufacturing processes. The ability to rapidly produce parts on demand has brought unexpected efficiency to the industry.
Here are some shiny examples of how aerospace has utilized 3D printing.
Daimler and two specialist partners have put into operation a pilot plant that uses 3D printing technology to make components for the automotive and aerospace industries.
The German premium car group worked on the project, which is called NextGenAM, with Premium Aerotec, which develops and produces metal and carbon fiber composite aircraft structures, and EOS, a 3D printing specialist.
The pilot plant, located at a Premium Aerotec facility in Varel in northern Germany, operates various machines for additive manufacturing, post-processing, and quality assurance. The production chain is fully automated, which is a key factor in lowering costs.
Boeing has pledged to deliver 800 airliners this year, more than ever before, but a main hiccup causing delays is supplier shortfalls.
New technology from startup companies like Digital Alloys could give Boeing more control over its supply chain. Boeing spokesperson Vienna Catalani told Supply Chain Dive the company is not yet certain how and if it will integrate Digital Alloys’ specific technology, but whether used internally at Boeing or in the hands of suppliers, 3D printers can produce metal parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.
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 technology feeds metal powder into a laser beam, which when scanned across a surface adds new material in a precise, web-like formation. The metallurgical bond created has mechanical properties similar, or in some cases superior, to those of the original material.
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.