This week at the RAPID + TCT show, 3D Systems showcased its advanced Figure 4 technology and made a big announcement: Figure 4 has been selected for Air Force-sponsored research focused on integrating high-speed 3D printing into the aircraft maintenance supply chain. The initiative is being led by the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) and sponsored by America Makes. In addition to 3D Systems, the research also includes Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and Northrop Grumman.

3D Systems’ Figure 4 at RAPID + TCT 2018 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

The Air Force will investigate how 3D Systems’ Figure 4 Production System can be used to reproduce components for older planes – some of them decades old – that may no longer have reliable sources for replacement parts. This could eliminate the need for parts warehousing and reduce the amount of time that planes spend on the ground waiting for repairs.

The award was made as part of a multi-year Air Force program called “Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low-cost Sustainment” (MAMLS), which is now advancing to Phase III. This isn’t the first time 3D Systems has been involved in the program; the company’s SLA and Direct Metal Printing technology has been used in prior MAMLS phases. This is the first time, however, that the Air Force is using DLP technology to supply low criticality components such as electrical connectors, knobs, elastomeric grommets, and spacers for legacy sustainment equipment.

Figure 4 [Image: 3D Systems]

Figure 4 technology was selected for the project due to its speed and high accuracy in 3D printing. It’s capable of part print speeds of up to 65 mm/h, and prototyping speeds of up to 100 mm/hr. The Figure 4 platform delivers part accuracy and repeatability, with Six Sigma repeatability (Cpk > 2) across all materials.

“We were pleased with the speed, resolution, surface finish, and scalability that we achieved utilizing 3D Systems’ solution,” said Dr. Tim Osborn, Research Scientist: Additive Manufacturing, Multiscale Composites and Polymer Division, University of Dayton Research Institute. “Our goal is to further explore this technology and establish a clear development, vetting, and transition pathway for the emerging DLP technology in the Figure 4 machine for transition to the U.S. Air Force.”

[Image: University of Dayton Research Institute]

Legacy aircraft used by the Air Force may require parts that are out of production due to manufacturing obsolescence, costs to create, low-quantity requirements, poor documentation, or other issues of availability. 3D printing is ideal for replacing these types of components, as it can quickly create one-off or small-batch parts that exactly replicate the originals.

“Additive manufacturing is the perfect lean solution because it avoids the need for time-consuming and costly tooling,” said 3D Systems Co-Founder and CTO Chuck Hull. “We are pleased to support the Air Force in its effort to reduce production costs and delivery times through Figure 4, our novel additive manufacturing technology. We look forward to our continued collaboration with UDRI and other partners – helping expand their arsenal of Figure 4 applications.”

The MAMLS program, which is an America Makes program funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory, has announced several awards on three key topics that will have the most impact for defense maintenance, sustainment and logistics, as well as the overall strategic readiness of the US Air Force and Department of Defense.

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