Additive Manufacturing to Play Role in Nacelle Production

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(Photo: MRO-Network)

[Photo: MRO-Network]

Today we see a wide range of industrial items being 3D printed, from rocket engines and entire planes, to cars and motorcycles. While this technology is helpful to manufacturing in many ways, we often see 3D printing being used for different types of housings and compartments, protecting more central parts of electronics and machines. In the future, additive manufacturing is set to play a larger part in creating and repairing components like engine nacelles.

Currently, Nexcelle manufactures the Leap 1C nacelle, which is known for its special ‘hood.’ The nacelle functions as an aerodynamic sleeve for the engine, and allows for the following:

  • Rapid deceleration via its thrust reversers
  • Containment of exploding debris following an engine failure
  • Channeling air into the engine
  • Noise reduction
  • De-icing

As the nacelle performs its job, manufacturers can create engines that are lighter in weight and safer, despite high temperatures. Consisting of the thrust reverser, inlet, fan cowl, and exhaust system, the nacelle can be thought of as the foundation of a system.

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Chris Gear

“It’s quite likely that there will be changes in the overall nacelle structure in 10 years, with different components having different levels of integration, but the basic functionality will stay the same,” says Chris Gear, Chief Technology Officer for GKN Aerospace, which manufactures nacelles and has been involved in additive manufacturing research for some time now.

There are challenges in creating nacelles, and those within the industry have concerns regarding new turbo fans which will require larger nacelles. Dealing with more weight is a major consideration.

“As a consequence, the main objective of future nacelle developments is to better integrate the nacelle with the engine and pylon to enable lower-drag solutions while further optimizing the traditional engine and pylon load paths,” says Marc Duvall, President of Aerostructures at UTC Aerospace Systems.

Because system failures and repairs are such a major concern, manufacturers are looking at alternatives, with metal being a logical choice. Nacelles are already made with carbon fiber due to its lightweight nature. Obviously this is where additive manufacturing can play a role.

“In my opinion, we have now achieved a maximum ratio [of composites], certainly for short-range aircraft where the shift will be toward lower-cost solutions and decreased maintenance costs for the airlines,” says Duvall. “There is no doubt that additive will be in production in our next nacelle systems, but it may not be as transformational as in other commercial aircraft systems.”

The use of metal is very popular today due to its strength, durability, and potential for creating parts that are lightweight. With this in mind, GKN will be opening an R&D center soon in the US, focusing on additive manufacturing with metal. They have also embarked on a partnership to create metal powders in Germany.

As nacelle damage often occurs due to thermal deformation or impact issues, those inspecting what’s left often note corrosion, delamination, tears, dents and more. Regarding newer-generation equipment and new technology such as 3D printing, time will tell if the expense can be justified due to a new level of reliability. Discuss in the 3D Printed Nacelles forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: MRO-Network.com]
Pratt & Whitney hopes that geared turbofan production will return to schedule in 2017, after some delays last year. (Photo Credit: Pratt & Whitney)

Pratt & Whitney hopes that geared turbofan production will return to schedule in 2017, after some delays last year. [Photo: Pratt & Whitney]

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