From model airplanes to drones to jets and rockets, you may be amazed to find out how many aircraft are flying today with 3D printed parts. And this trend will only continue to increase, propelled further by consortiums such as the UK’s ATI Horizon Additive Manufacturing as they work to develop progressive manufacturing methods in aerospace.
Horizon AM is currently focused on new additive manufacturing techniques for producing metal, lightweight parts for aircraft. They will be creating production methods that are more affordable and create less waste, allowing for near net shapes to be produced on demand.
“Having established viable methods to produce flying components manufactured in this way the aim is to exploit the high geometric complexity and multi-material capability of these manufacturing methods in order to realise advanced aircraft components for the next generation of aircraft, thereby establishing the UK at the forefront of aerospace design and manufacturing,” states the Aerospace Technology Institute in a recent press release about Horizon and a new case study.
The consortium was founded in 2014 by a group of partners interested in creating new AM techniques for aerospace parts. Led by GKN Aerospace, the consortium also includes partnerships with:
- AM materials
- Design requirements
- Design for AM
- Polymer AM
- AM process understanding
- Post processing for AM
- NDT for AM
“The ATI Horizon (AM) programme focuses on progressing three key AM technologies through GKN’s Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) process in order to development them into viable production processes. To date, TRL 3 have been achieved for Polymer AM and TRL 4 for LPB. It is also collaborated with other ATI projects and GKN sites to produce flight test hardware for flight trials of next generation ice protection systems developed in WIST and ALFET. After TRL 4 focus will shift from the process to product development with a focus on TRL 4 for Polymer. TRL 5 for LBP and the continuing industrialisation of the EBM technology achieving TRL 4 for a high rate engine component,” states the case study.
The consortium has increased staff to 20 engineers (from only eight, previously), and they now have 10 3D printers, in comparison to their previous two. They are working with multiple materials in their material analysis lab, focusing on production with no post processing, and they have ‘increased collaborations’ with AM customers.
“Due to the technology development achieved through ATI Horizon, GKN were excellently positioned to collaborate with an existing customer to produce flight trial hardware which required a rapid delivery. This collaboration led to further work being awarded to GKN to other areas of the customers’ business where AM could be applied.”
Two case studies were completed, with the first centering around the NextGeneration Ice Detection system as the consortium worked with other major entities as well, to include other GKN divisions. They used laser powder bed components to hold a novel aircraft Optical Ice Detector (OID) and next generation ice protection heater mats.
“The assembly was attached onto an instrument pylon and flight tested using the BAe 146-301 large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) owned by Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM),” states the team in their case study.
The project ‘matured’ the following:
- Laser Powder Bed AM towards TRL 5
- Optical Ice Detectors towards TRL 6
- Ice Protection Heater Mats (ALFET) towards TRL 6
“The AM parts needed to interface with the aircraft’s instrumentation canisters, the OID sensors and an external video camera used to verify if ice had accreted. It was important to minimise the surface roughness of the parts external surfaces and maintain the tight tolerances needed between the AM parts and the other metallic components,” the researchers add.
The second case study investigates Design for Additive Manufacture (DfAM) throughout the whole life cycle. The researchers explored simulation driven design methodologies on an elevator hinge bracket. And with simulation driven design, they found they could fabricate complex parts that are 50 percent lighter. Not only that, the parts are now affordable to produce with 3D printing. This means wing designs offer greater performance, efficiency, and even savings on the bottom line. Consequently, aircraft engines will operate more efficiently too.
“The aim of this work package is to plan a single AM process for five (5) distinct optimised designs of an Elevator Hinge Bracket using five (5) different software packages. The designs are to be built and mechanically tested on a rig with the positive expectation that all pass,” explains the team.
They cite benefits of the elevator hinge bracket as follows:
- Reduced buy-to-fly ratio from 3.5 to approximately 2 – 1.5
- Weight reduction of up to 53%
- Potential reduction of number of parts
- Possible reduction of design time by 10 times
“The study provides evidence that parts which are designed within limits of traditional manufacturing processes can be replaced with optimised parts that offer cost and weight savings. The wider application for assemblies of structural components being built as one part in AM has been identified as a further potential area for development.
The relatively limited scope of this project has developed the technology to TRL4 in the aircraft structures application. The work has been validated by static strength testing of one of the parts. This technology will mature to TRL6 and undergo flight demonstration,” conclude the researchers.
Find out more about the consortium and their latest case studies here.
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