ZAL Tech Center played host to this year’s Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin AM Conference.
I’ve said it before, since working in additive manufacturing I’ve adopted a bit of a habit of playing “spot the additive application” whenever I board a plane. Great for editorial, but quite annoying, I would imagine, for my other half whenever we go on holiday.
The same happened last week as I hopped on a flight to Hamburg for the second Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin Additive Manufacturing conference. As I settled into the brash yellow and blue my seats of my budget aircraft (the glamorous life of the media), I began circling with imaginary red pen all of the areas where AM might find a useful home from the tens of assembled parts I could see in the arm rest mechanism to the unnecessary tray tables that had been bolted shut to restrict use in the rows of emergency exit seats (it’s really almost TOO glamorous).
Two ferry rides later, it was exactly those types of applications that a collective of aerospace specialists and additive experts had gathered at the ZAL Tech Center, south of the River Elbe, to explore. If being privy to two days worth of brain storming sessions with a bunch of 3D printing-literate engineers shows you anything, it’s that those far flung ideas like personalised seats and bionic bathrooms are not a million miles away from reality. Though the suggestion of a real-life RoboCop may be taking things a little too far.
“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.
The aviation sector today faces many challenges. From geopolitical tensions, to an ongoing US-China trade war, as well as fluctuating oil prices, the sector has seen its fair share of hardships. Still, the aviation sector has found its way of out of the fire.
“The aviation industry has been thoroughly enjoying an extended bull run for the past decade,” KPMG noted in their 2019 Aviation Industry Leaders Report. “Airlines have had access to cheap finance as tough competition pushed down lease rates and debt costs.”
“How long more can this bull run?” KPMG continued. “It has been the question asked for the last number of years. The overall impression heading into 2019 is that while industry fundamentals remain strong – in particular high passenger growth, though cooling, – there are signs that building geopolitical, macroeconomic and industry headwinds will impact the industry over the next 24 months. Varying political tensions and potential trade wars, rising interest rates, volatile oil costs, a strong US dollar, slowing economies, increasing production rates, and MRO and infrastructure capacity constraints are all impacting the aviation sector.”
I’ve spent 30 years optimizing materials for use in aerospace and automotive applications, looking at how we design, make and use them. My latest research focuses on the additive manufacturing (AM) of alloys for use in aerospace applications. We’ve received a £2.6 million (US$3.2 million) grant for the next ten years which will enable us to develop AM alloys for industrial applications. We’re using one of the world’s most advanced tools to help investigate the challenges associated with AM alloys – Diamond Light Source the UK’s National synchrotron science facility at Harwell near Oxford. The synchrotron lets us see inside the alloys as the AM machine makes components.
The synchrotron emits electrons at the speed of light and bends them using electromagnetics to create a continuous beam of light at wavelengths from near infrared to hard x-rays. At the point where the beam of electrons bends it gives us a flux of light up to 10 million times brighter than the sun.
A key lesson learned talking with aerospace 3D printing companies at PAS 2019, that can be applied to all industrial segments
The Paris Air Show was a huge success for the largest aerospace players and for many innovative aerospace 3D printing companies. The aviation and space industries are rocketing toward booming growth with no slow down anywhere on the horizon. While additive manufacturing is still just a tiny – to use a euphemism – segment of aerospace manufacturing, all leading companies in aerospace are very much invested in developing it. The reason may be found in one of the largest deals ever closed during the show: the $55 billion in orders that CFM – a joint venture between GE and Safran – received for its LEAP engine. The LEAP engine is super efficient and is enabling a new generation of single-aisle jets – such as the Airbus321neo flown by French operator Le Compagnie in its new all-business flights – to make trips across the Atlantic on a single tank of fuel.
Last April, for instance, a LEAP-engine-powered Airbus A321neo LR loaded with 162 dummy passengers and 16 crew completed a test flight from Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, to the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean that lasted 11 hours and covered 5,466 miles. It was the longest distance flight in the certification process of the A321neo. At the Paris Air Show Airbus formally unveiled a new long-range A321neo, officially designated the A321XLR, which will become available from 2023. The twinjet will have a maximum take-off weight of 101t and a range of 4,700nm compared with the 4,000nm of the current 97t long-range A321LR variant. GE and most operators expect that these efficient single-aisle aircraft will make up the bulk of order for the foreseeable future.
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.
Additive manufacturing (AM) has significant potential for aerospace, according to industry figures, though challenges remain in certification, the supply of materials, and other areas.
AM—also known as 3D printing—allows manufacturers to produce complex geometries using lightweight materials. These shapes often cannot be made using conventional methods, while the parts can be “printed” from a computer file, even on remote sites.
The technology was the subject of a recent paper by Scott Sevcik, vice president of the Aerospace Business Segment at Stratasys. The AM solutions provider has worked with Diehl Aviation, Marshall Aerospace, and other companies. While the most common form of AM technology—Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)—has been used in aerospace for almost 30 years for prototyping purposes, the portfolio of materials and uses is rapidly expanding, the paper notes, meeting the stringent requirements needed to make aircraft parts flightworthy and achieving the levels of repeatability demanded to produce parts with consistent performance.
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.