French aircraft design and manufacturing group Latécoère recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and over the last century has become a leader in aerostructures and interconnection systems, holding multiple distinctions: the company is the world leader in avionics racks, the European leader in satellite wiring, the world’s leading independent manufacturer of aircraft doors, and is second in the world for electrical harnesses. Latécoère serves a number of major aerospace clients including Airbus, Bombardier and Dassault Aviation.
It’s also a frequent user of additive manufacturing technology – in particular, the Stratasys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer, which the company is using for both rapid prototyping and production tooling. 3D printing has helped Latécoère cut back on long lead times and cost for multiple design iterations.
“Additive manufacturing has integrated seamlessly into our design and production process, and has seen us enjoy improved lead-times, reduced costs and enhanced operational efficiency,” said Simon Rieu, Composite and Additive Manufacturing Manager at Latécoère’s R&D and Innovation Center. “As the requirements of the aerospace industry become more demanding, we’re also mindful of the need to maintain our competitive edge, and Stratasys additive manufacturing enables us to meet that objective.”
Previously, Latécoère had used CNC machining for rapid prototyping, but the technology proved to be less than satisfactory for the company’s needs.
“We recently produced a 3D printed prototype to verify the fit and function of a part for the interior lining of an aircraft door,” said Rieu. “Previously, this would have been made from sheet metal – an often-time-consuming process. With our Fortus 450mc 3D Printer, we produced a fully-functional prototype in two days, reducing our lead times by a staggering 95%. Crucially this has accelerated our design validation process before committing to costly and time-consuming tooling.”
Recently Latécoère produced a prototype camera case for design validation for the Airbus A380, with all of the camera’s internal parts housed inside. The company used ULTEM 9085 material to 3D print the case, resulting in a prototype 50% lighter than a directly manufactured metal part would have been, and also significantly less expensive.
Latécoère is also using the Fortus 450mc for the on-demand manufacture of customized production tools, which has reduced time and cost and also enhanced operator efficiency.
“Using metal sheet manufacturing, creating a tool can take up to six weeks. Now we can 3D print a tool in just two days and 50% lighter using ULTEM 9085 material,” said Rieu. “With our 3D printer, we can also optimize the geometry of the tool to perfectly fit the part – making the operator’s job much easier. Not only has this accelerated our production process dramatically, but I also estimate that we’ve reduced our tool production costs by a massive 40%.”
Latécoère’s plan for the future is to 3D print final production parts for its leading aircraft manufacturer clients. The company has been looking at the potential of using the Fortus 450mc to produce final interior aircraft components with certification in mind. It has already used the 3D printer and ULTEM 9085 material to produce 3D printed air duct housing components, which has reduced weight and saved time compared to traditional production methods.
“Latécoère, like many of our aerospace customers, are benefiting from our proven FDM technology and high-performance materials for this industry,” said Andy Middleton, President of EMEA, Stratasys. “Our application-driven approach enables us to have a close interface with our customers to develop solutions optimized for their design and production processes. Whether it’s accelerating design validation or the on-demand production of lightweight manufacturing tools, or even 3D printed interior aircraft parts, we are committed to ensuring our customers are given the right tools to optimize the use of additive manufacturing.”
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