Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of RTX (NYSE: RTX), formerly Raytheon, has invested $14 million into expanding its additive manufacturing (AM) center in West Des Moines, Iowa. With construction beginning a year ago, the company held a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 20, 2023, revealing that the upgraded facility now spans 9,000 square feet and hosts advanced metal 3D printers, underscoring the company’s ongoing commitment to enhancing its AM capabilities.
Collins Aerospace’s New Iowa Metal 3D Printing Facility
The expansion at the West Des Moines facility opens the way for the company to explore new production methods for engine components in both commercial and military aircraft. The addition of advanced 3D metal printers, including the 12-laser NXG XII 600 from SLM Solutions, paves the way for further developments in manufacturing land-based turbine components.
Renee Begley, the West Des Moines site lead for Collins Aerospace, emphasized the role of AM in the future of the aerospace and defense sectors. “Additive manufacturing has the potential to help us reduce weight, complexity, lead time, and cost in the parts we supply, and this expansion represents an investment in our business to help deliver those benefits to our customers,” she said.
Collins Aerospace recently achieved certification by the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP) for AM. This certification places the company among a select group of eight facilities in the United States that hold this accreditation, highlighting its dedication to maintaining high standards in the 3D printing field.
The NXG XII 600 machine. Image courtesy of SLM Solutions.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds commended the development, saying, “Today’s expansion in West Des Moines is a testament to the commitment Collins Aerospace has made to our state, and we’re equally committed to providing the strong economic environment that will fuel its innovation here for decades more to come.”
Collins Aerospace in the Larger 3D Printing Industry
Collins Aerospace has been actively enhancing its AM capabilities on a global scale, operating a network of additive production centers in Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Singapore, with a research center in Connecticut providing additional support.
Collins Aerospace relies on additive manufacturing for part manufacturing. Image courtesy of Collins Aerospace.
Over the past few years, Collins has emerged as a key participant in the AM industry, partnering with Morf3D and Sintavia among others, and working with PrintSky, a joint venture between French aerospace company Sogeclair and AddUp. Furthermore, Collins Aerospace recently inaugurated a new AM center in North Carolina, underlining its focus on this technology.
The Larger Aerospace Battle
Collins Aerospace’s 3D printing strategy is unfolding in an industry landscape that is witnessing escalating battles between aerospace giants like Boeing and RTX. In a lawsuit filed in January 2023, Boeing alleged that Collins Aerospace subsidiaries, Goodrich Corp., Rockwell Collins Inc. and Rohr Inc., supplied faulty parts for its F/A-18 and F-15 fighter jets, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in mitigation costs at its St. Louis County factory. The lawsuit is symptomatic of intensifying competition within the aerospace sector, amplified by growing geopolitical tensions, notably between the United States and China.
After initially planning sanctions against Boeing and RTX for arms sales to Taiwan, the Chinese government has ultimately sanctioned RTX and Lockheed Martin. This includes a ban on exports and imports by the two companies from and to China, as well as the prohibition of senior executives of both companies from traveling to China or working there.
Therefore, as the battle between military giants intensifies, taking on legal and geopolitical dimensions, the need for tighter supply chains is increasingly crucial. Not only must a company like Boeing rely on the ability to get parts quickly via AM, but Collins has to ensure it has the quality necessary to supply its customers. For this reason, the NADCAP certification is particularly important.
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