The aerospace and defence industries are obvious examples of the use of additive manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D printing) to create stronger and lighter parts than traditionally manufactured parts. Over the last few decades, the adoption of 3D printing has increased significantly. In 2015, the aerospace and defence industries contributed about 16% of the $4.9 billion-plus global revenue from 3D printing. Today, companies are moving to industrialise additive manufacturing by placing it at the heart of their production process.
Additive manufacturing is an industrial application that consists of manufacturing parts by adding successive layers, based on a digital model of the object to be manufactured. Additive manufacturing technology therefore allows the rapid design of parts at a limited cost compared to traditional methods. Parts made with additive manufacturing can be made of plastic materials (by stereolithography, or laser powder sintering), or of metallic materials (by laser fusion on a metal powder bed, or material deposition by directed energy). The advantages of using this process are, for example, the possibility of creating new prototypes or small series of objects (such as tooling) with few materials, thus reducing waste.
In the aerospace industry, additive manufacturing has now entered an industrialisation phase, i.e. 3D printing is integrated into all stages of the design process. This process starts with a conceptual model, and then the prototyping of an aircraft component can be achieved by 3D printing quickly and cheaply (there is a 3D printing process for every prototyping need). At the pre-production stage, 3D printing also mitigates the risk of investing in expensive tooling at the production stage and can also provide production components in quantities of up to 5,000 to 10,000 parts. Improvements in the size of 3D printers and their printing speed, as well as the materials available, mean that additive manufacturing is now a viable option for many medium-sized production runs, and parts can be customised to suit a specific aircraft. The cost of highly complex single components can be justified by a substantial improvement in aircraft performance by reducing fuel costs. The parts manufactured can be jigs and fixtures, surrogates (mainly used for training), mounting brackets and other detailed prototypes.
French equipment manufacturer Safran has manufactured a titanium nose gear casing for a business jet using the selective laser melting process. This production method reduced the total weight of the part by 15%. It will be tested this year on a test bench in order to be qualified and then integrated into an aircraft. For this project, Safran partnered with SLM Solutions, a German company specializing in metal-based additive manufacturing. “The use of additive manufacturing for a part of this nature and size is a world first” said Nicolas Nguyen, head of the R&T platform for the project at Safran Landing Systems.
Additive manufacturing saves time for Safran, since the part was manufactured in just a few days, whereas several months would have been needed for a forging process. The equipment manufacturer has acquired the skills related to this sector within a campus dedicated to 3D printing, the Safran Additive Manufacturing Campus, installed in Haillan near Bordeaux. According to campus director François-Xavier Foubert, the objective is to accelerate Safran’s growth while achieving economies of scale. The part in question was printed with the SLM 800 printer, a machine dedicated to large components, equipped with “quad-laser” gas management technology. This gives advantages in terms of flexibility to make rapid changes to the design.
Germany’s Siemens Group and the Italian-American 3D printing company Roboze have announced a strategic partnership to pool their expertise for the industrialisation of additive manufacturing. This collaboration will increase production opportunities for companies involved in the energy, mobility and aerospace sectors.
The priorities defined between Siemens and Roboze demonstrate the flexibility, agility and scalability that companies need to achieve their digital transformation. “We have experienced the potential of Roboze’s 3D printing, so much so that we have chosen to implement their ARGO 500 into our processes. I am delighted to be part of this project as I see many strategic opportunities for the future of manufacturing” says Tim Bell, business manager for additive manufacturing at Siemens.
The main activities within the collaboration will focus on digitisation and automation projects to address current and future challenges.