Additive Engineering Solutions (AES) completed and shipped out a large format 3D printed 12 foot long NC vacuum mill holding fixture that will be used by Dassault Falcon Jet (DFJ) in the trimming and drilling of composite panels. Several features incorporated into the tool included over 50 vacuum suction cups and toggle clamps for keeping the composite panels in place during the machining process along with lifting and forklift provisions.
“When you’re manufacturing 3D printed tooling, it’s important to optimize the design of the tool for the process. The surface geometry will remain the same whether it’s 3D printing or made out of machined tooling board, but the backup structure will vary greatly”, says Austin Schmidt Co-Founder and President at AES. “We were able to design this particular tool for optimal weight savings as well as making it easier to install all the vacuum components”.
A tool like this would traditionally be made from either fiberglass or blocks of high dense urethane tooling board glued together; both methods require a lot of skilled labor to manufacture complete. AES was able to design the internal structure of the tool to allow them to more easily install the suction cups and manifolds without the need for machining out the backside for access, this also reduced the labor time needed for assembly. “In this specific project, the AM approach was definitely the right solution, it reduced the lead-time and cost by utilizing LFAM’s design flexibility”, said Gabriel.
Large Format Additive Manufacturing or LFAM for short, has generated a lot of interest over the last few years across the Aerospace & Defense industry for its ability to create quick turn and economically priced tooling and mold solutions. In 2016, AES became the first provider of LFAM tooling solutions globally and continues to lead the space with the largest LFAM capacity in the industry. Read more here about the recent 2020 3D printer additions to the AES production shop floor.
Dassault Falcon Jet (DFJ), headquartered in Teterboro, New Jersey (a subsidiary of Dassault Aviation which manufactures military and business jets), was an early adopter of extrusion and FDM additive manufacturing technology for printing tooling and fixtures in its Little Rock, Arkansas finishing and completions center. The 1.25 million square foot facility is dedicated to engineering, designing and installing interiors for Falcon business jets. They utilized their in-house 3D printing capabilities to manufacture tooling in a short period of time which allowed them to be more efficient and productive out on their shop floor. Several years ago, most polymer printing was limited to a 1m (3ft) cube build volume; however, with the advent of Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM)) technology, developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and built by machine tool builder Cincinnati Inc. (CI) back in 2014, the ability to print larger, several feet in length, more durable tooling, and finish machine to a smooth surface, was a game-changer.
“When we first started talking with Falcon a few years ago, we were looking at a tool that was going to take them weeks to print in four different sections. They would then have to bond it together and apply a coating to make the surface smooth”, says Andrew Bader, Co-Founder and Vice-President at AES. “We determined we could print the entire tool in one piece and machine finish to an acceptable tolerance that would result in a smooth surface suitable for composite work.” Using BAAM technology made it cheaper and faster than both FDM printing and traditional tool building methods.
Fast forward a few years and both companies continue to work together at the forefront of large format additive technology. In 2019, the two companies printed a layup mold used for curing composites, using Thermwood’s LSAM (Large Scale Additive Manufacturing) 3D printer. By taking advantage of the LSAM’s vertical layer printing (VLP) technology, they were able to print a single, 15-foot-long printed mold made from reinforced Ultem material.
Over the last few years, AES and DFJ’s business relationship has morphed into a working partnership that allows them to work through technical issues that are bound to arise on projects pushing the technical boundaries of LFAM applications. Marc-Olivier Gabriel, Tooling Engineer at Dassault Falcon Jet, puts it this way: “It has been great working as a team on all of our large AM (additive manufacturing) projects. Through our experiences together, we continue to improve and these learnings benefit future projects as we move forward”.