Most branches of the military have begun relying on 3D printing due to a host of benefits that complement their needs. Self-sustainability and portability are high on that list though as military personnel must always be at the ready—and that includes making aircraft landings. Because planes may not always be able to touch down at a designated airport, runway mats are necessary; historically, however, they have been unwieldy to transport. Now, Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO), headquartered in Plymouth, Indiana, is part of a team developing a 3D printed version for the United States Air Force.
3D printing is an obvious choice for a critical component that must be created, used, and then broken back down in a short amount of time. For the Air Force, runway mats (usually made from aluminum today) are necessary for expeditionary airfields (EA) set up during temporary missions. These portable mats must hold up to Air Force requirements, however, and must include the following features:
- Fast installation procedures
- Easy storage
- Durability for many take-offs and landings
- Strength to withstand impact from arresting hooks
Currently, ITAMCO engineers are working with researchers from Purdue University to create a 3D printed surface that offers an improvement over the AM-2 aluminum plank matting in use since Vietnam. Purdue Professor Pablo Zavattieri, of the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, is collaborating closely with Scott Hartford, Project Manager at ITAMCO, to further development of both an upper and lower surface that connect seamlessly. The two groups are making this possible with a new technological solution relying on phase transforming cellular matrix (PXCM) geometry.
Both ITAMCO and Zavattieri see the potential benefit of PXCM and sheet or ‘roll technology’ for military use because of its ability to handle loading and shear stresses caused by repeated expeditionary flight operations. In essence, these mats ‘tread’ in the 4D realm as they are able to absorb stress in their environment, deform accordingly, and then revert to their original shape—or as ITAMCO explains in their recent press release sent to 3DPrint.com, the material is able to ‘heal itself.’ Not only does this serve great functional purpose, it also offers product longevity as the material, weighing around 3.5 pounds per square foot (or less), and able to be installed manually, has a much longer lifespan. The 3D printed airway mat is expected to support 5,000 landing and takeoff cycles within a 60-day period.
As engineers continue to partner in this project, they will begin prototyping with the EOS M290 onsite at ITAMCO, using StainlessSteel 316L VPro metal powder.
“EOS StainlessSteel 316L VPro is a highly productive material that was born from our collaborate development effort with GKN. Applications using 316L VPro, combined with highly proven EOS metal 3D printing technologies, result in accelerated production with lower production costs,” said Patrick Boyd, Marketing Director, EOS North America.
“We’re excited that ITAMCO has partnered with EOS in ITAMCO’s endeavors to create forward-thinking solutions. They are not afraid to engineer then employ extraordinary solutions where no solution previously existed.”
As prototyping continues, the teams will also be using cloud-based Sunata software from Atlas 3D to orient these complex 3D printing geometries. Sunata was developed in 2015 and is centered around direct metal laser sintering printer support, allowing for easy but optimal orientation.
“The additive markets continue to evolve with new materials and unique geometries like PXCM on a near daily basis,” said Chad Barden, CEO of Atlas 3D. “If not managed properly, these new variables can lead to scrap, rework, and loss of time to market. Sunata will ensure build success and is an integral part of this project.”
The simple fact that 3D printing plays a role in prototyping and manufacturing of parts for military and civilian aircraft, spacecraft, and so much more related to aerospace and aeronautics speaks volumes about the trust engineers place in this technology, as they forge ahead in creating innovative, strong, lightweight parts from door latches to brackets for military planes to materials developed specifically for building rocket parts.
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