Desktop Metal Subsidiary Becomes 3D Printing Supplier for Italian Defense Giant Leonardo

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Aidro, an Italian company specializing in the design and production of hydraulic and fluid power systems, has been named a qualified supplier with additive manufacturing (AM) techniques for the helicopter division of Leonardo, the world’s eighth largest defense contractor, based in Rome. Aidro is just the second supplier to have been given this qualification by Leonardo, to use AM in its production line.

Founded in 1982, Aidro is one of the companies purchased by Massachusetts-based Desktop Metal last year, amid its spree of acquisitions. Along with aerospace, Aidro utilizes AM to produce components for multiple other sectors, including oil and gas. The company has been employing binder jetting and laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) systems since 2017.

In 2018, Aidro received AS/EN 9100 certification for its AM process for hydraulic components. The AS/EN certifications are based on a set of quality control standards determined by DNV, the world’s largest registrar and classification society. The AS/EN are the most widely used standards by original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in the aerospace industry.

In a press release, Aidro’s president and CEO, Valeria Tirelli, commented, “In addition to supporting Leonardo with design, Aidro also organizes training sessions and knowledge-sharing on [AM] with its employees. The joining of forces and continuous process of mutual learning becomes essential in such a fast-changing environment to be able to design, create, and recreate products of high value.” Dario Bonanno, the industrial engineering manager for Leonardo, added, “Leonardo is committed to introducing and expanding the use of [AM] on its rotorcraft products…The availability of a qualified supply chain is a fundamental requirement to support the industrial sustainability of the company’s technological roadmap.”

Although AM techniques have been widely adopted by the aerospace industry to an extent, it seems like long-term, the technology could have a proportionally significant impact in terms of its effects on helicopters, specifically. This is not just the case concerning manufacturing, but equally, concerning maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO). While the latter is one of the most crucial aspects of the aircraft industry in general, it’s possibly most significant when it comes to helicopters, which are plagued by the need for constant upkeep and, thus, inordinately high MRO expenses. Digitizing helicopter supply chains would help streamline those processes, and could eventually make significant reductions in the cost of helicopter operating services.

Further, there’s the light-weighting of parts. Yet again, this is an area where a feature of AM that makes the technology attractive to the aircraft industry is particularly advantageous for the helicopter sector. Helicopters are significantly more dangerous than airplanes, and the disastrous impact of even slight increases in weight on helicopters is one of the main reasons why this is so. Therefore, in addition to aiding greatly in engineering efforts to making them more fuel-efficient, light-weighting should be pivotal to long-term improvement to helicopters’ safety track records.

It’s striking the extent to which Desktop Metals’ acquisitions have driven the company along lately. It may turn out that Desktop’s acquisitions are stronger than its initial printer manufacturing capabilities. Certainly, it seems to be going into the right spaces. In addition to Aidro and helicopters, going into nuclear with its purchase of ExOne seems to be a genius move at the moment. It’s going to be extremely interesting to see over the next few years, if Desktop is just a loose collection of 3D printing businesses, or if a strategy holding together all its various pieces is revealed.

Images courtesy of Aidro

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