3D Printing Goes Supersonic: Stratasys Discusses New Technical Partnership with Boom

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I love going to London; I don’t love getting there. While modern aviation has made international travel much less burdensome than the marathon voyage of yesteryear, spending the better part of a day on a plane is never anyone’s idea of a day well spent. Supersonic flight can cut down the amount of travel time required — and 3D printing can cut down the amount of time required to develop realizable commercial supersonic capabilities.

While supersonic flight was first introduced half a century ago, it has not yet advanced to the point of an accessible option in air travel. A new partnership is seeking to change that, as today 3D printing giant Stratasys has announced a three-year technical partnership with Boom Supersonic to enhance, through FDM 3D printing, development speed for supersonic aircraft. Stratasys’ Fortus 450mc and F370 3D printers will come into play, along with the company’s broad portfolio of thermoplastics, to accelerate production of advanced composite tooling and production-grade aircraft parts.

“Supersonic flight has existed for over 50 years, but the technology hasn’t existed to make it affordable for routine commercial travel. Today’s significant advances in aerodynamics, engine design, additive manufacturing, and carbon fiber composite materials are transforming the industry at all levels. Additive manufacturing helps accelerate development of a new generation of aircraft. With a proven track-record of success across aviation and aerospace, Stratasys now becomes a key catalyst in our design and production processes – helping to transform the future of aviation through the power of 3D printing,” Blake Scholl, Founder and CEO of Boom, said of the partnership.

The partnership certainly makes sense on paper; Stratasys has been increasing its stakes in aviation lately, and is set for a strong showing at next week’s Paris International Air Show. 3D printing, for its part, has been increasingly coming into focus not only in aviation/aerospace development, but with some significant work already being done in terms of supersonic applications. Boom has already been putting 3D printing to use in the creation of some of its molds, and this partnership is set to more fully leverage the benefits of the technology.

Boom is planning the first test flights for its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator for 2018: an ambitious timeline set to be helped along with a more intensive incorporation of additive manufacturing. Said to reach mach 2.2 — at speeds of 1,451 mph — the XB-1 is set to fly 2.6x faster than any of today’s aircraft choices, reducing flight time from New York City to London from the current average of about seven hours to just over three hours.

“XB-1 is a one-third scale realization of the Boom passenger airliner. It will demonstrate in flight the key technologies for practical supersonic travel,” Boom describes its aircraft. “XB-1 is the first independently developed supersonic jet and history’s fastest civil aircraft. It is under construction now and will fly next year.”

As part of its progress toward next year’s test flight, the XB-1 underwent a wind tunnel test in December 2016 at the Wichita State University-based National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), which houses a good deal of aerospace-oriented innovation. The extensive advanced technologies housed at NIAR include a good deal of 3D printing and other additive technologies, including at a new 3DEXPERIENCE Center that formally opened in April of this year, which are used to advance aerospace and other highly engineered applications.

3D printing using Stratasys technologies will come into play at Boom’s Denver, CO headquarters, as the company looks to accelerate development for next year’s inaugural flights. Aviation is well known for providing strenuous environments hard on parts and materials, but Stratasys’ technology is up to the challenge. Advanced manufacturing tools and a broad portfolio of production-grade thermoplastics are set to take to the air, and Stratasys is showing a lot of excitement about the potential.

“Boom is working towards a major breakthrough in supersonic, commercial airline travel – and we’re excited Stratasys is now playing a strategic role in helping them achieve their goals,” said Rich Garrity, President of Americas for Stratasys. “We are proud to add Boom Supersonic to a roster of leading aerospace companies successfully implementing our additive manufacturing solutions to deliver new innovations in aviation. Stratasys’ engineering-grade, high-efficiency 3D printing solutions are perfectly suited for producing the complex part designs and custom manufacturing tools this industry demands.”

To learn more about the collaboration and what 3D printing can bring to the future of high-speed air travel, I turned those with direct knowledge of the work ahead. Scott Sevcik, Stratasys Head of Aerospace, Defense and Automotive, answered A Few Questions For me to shed more light on the mach-speed enhancements.

Can you share any particular parts/areas that will benefit early on from 3D printing? Longer-term?

“Our two main areas of focus in the partnership will be on tooling and production part applications. On the production side, we have very relevant capabilities today for cabin interior parts including seat components, ducting, and cable management clips and brackets. Looking to the future, we expect to move into more applications outside the cabin as we bring high performance composite materials to the forefront.”

What materials will be used?

“All of Stratasys’ suite of thermoplastics will be made available to BOOM with this partnership, but the materials used will be dependent on the application.”

 What other services/solutions from Stratasys will be put to use ?

“We will be assigning some of our top application engineers to work directly with BOOM helping us to refine and perfect many of our latest applications.  We also have considerable consulting resources and part production capacity that may be utilized as the partnership develops.”

 How much will development time and cost be cut through use of these 3D printing solutions?

“We will be able to determine the cost and development savings when we get deeper into the partnership, but we think we can bring significant savings in both areas.”

 Are generative design and other design optimization capabilities made possible through 3D printing changing the shape of aircraft components? Can you share any examples?

“It’s too early to say for Boom specifically, but the design freedom offered by 3D printing is absolutely changing the shape of vehicle components throughout aerospace. One great example is a duct on ULA’s Atlas V rocket. They replaced 140 pieces of aluminum with 16 printed parts because they had the opportunity to consolidate whole assemblies into a single, much more elegant part. This saves weight, saves assembly labor, and reduces the risk of not having a part you need when you need it.”

The Atlas V rocket launched last spring with multiple components having been created thanks to Stratasys’ technology, showcasing one already sky-high application for 3D printed thermoplastics. As Stratasys and Boom look toward a mach 2.2 future for 3D printing, attendees at the upcoming Paris Air Show can visit with these teams at the Stratasys booth, which is available for tours, or participate at the advanced demonstrations and executive presentations in Hall 4, Stand C208. Discuss in the Stratasys forum at 3DPB.com.

[Images/Videos: Boom Supersonic]

 

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