“3D printing will be a game-changer for the MRO industry worldwide.”
Pratt & Whitney is set to introduce a 3D printed aero-engine component into its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations by mid-2020 after a successful collaboration with ST Engineering.
The two companies came together to leverage 3D printing technology to facilitate faster and more flexible repair solutions, with contributions also coming from Pratt & Whitney’s repair specialist Component Aerospace Singapore.
Component Aerospace Singapore provides engine part repair for combustion chambers, fuel systems and manifolds; ST Engineering boasts ‘production-level 3D capabilities’ and experience applying 3D printing in land transport systems; and Pratt & Whitney is a specialist in design and engineering.
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 is making serious inroads for MRO applications, but challenges may slow its adoption for some uses.
Aviation is a necessarily cautious industry, where new technologies are adopted only after exhaustive testing and certification processes. As such, additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is still in its infancy across the airframe and engine supply chains.
South Carolina-based 3D Systems, which produces additive manufacturing (AM) machines, manufactures only 12 such parts in current-production engines, and fewer than 1,000 on Boeing and Airbus aircraft. In comparison, the company prints more than 500,000 metal parts for other industries each year.
A new 3D printing system could help steer the aviation applications of additively manufactured parts in a new direction.
“When we look at the aftermarket and the MRO space, the benefit isn’t necessarily in printing different parts or lighter-weight parts, but it’s in changing the economics of producing those parts. It’s the ability to stock digitally, not carry inventory of dozens of different aircraft configurations for years,” says Scott Sevcik, Stratasys vice president for manufacturing solutions. He adds that the ability to produce larger, repeatable parts on-demand could provide immense flexibility for MRO providers.
The company’s new H2000 is unique in that it lays up printing material horizontally rather than in the traditional vertical method. Not constrained by a build envelope like traditional 3D printing, parts created on the H2000 can ostensibly be as long as a customer desires.
Stratasys developed the system’s requirements with input from OEMs including Boeing and Ford Motor Co. Both companies are exploring applications for the H2000 system, including parts such as aircraft panels and interior closet doors, which Stratasys displayed at a VIP event for potential buyers at its headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.