As 2020 took a heavy toll on airlines and, inevitably, on aerospace manufacturers, many AM industry operators and media such as this one have highlighted and emphasized the need for aviation industry operators to accelerate the transition towards optimized, AM-based production models. This is not just a mantra to be repeated over and over, it is a real necessity for the aviation industry. Some operators followed through and are now showing how they were able to restructure and refocus their activities. One of these is UK-based BWT.
In 2020, BWT decided to use the time to recalibrate and restructure priorities and built up its digital presence. Today, after several months of preparation, BWT is presenting a redesigned website as the main portal into the company’s revamped capabilities, including six Stratasys Fortus printers.
From tools to final parts
BWT had already been heavily invested in developing two new technologies: Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D NET Shape Performs. These applications go beyond ducting and BWT is confident they will play an integral part in increasing the UK’s share of the global aerospace market. It began when one of BWT’s AM operators identified an opportunity for an upgrade on current processes, to save time, reducing rework and scrap. BWT’s engineers developed a nozzle, designed for a large military aircraft. This new 3D printed tool dramatically improved the manufacturing productivity of an airflow control nozzle.
Now, according to AINonline, BWT has begun making low-pressure air ducting systems using a pair of Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printers. The new process is delivering cost savings of up to around 75 percent on some parts and smaller quantity orders compared with manufacturing processes using aluminum.
The UK-based aerospace manufacturer said its investment in 3D printing also means weight savings of around 50 percent on some components. The Fortus 450mc printers use Stratasys’s Ultem 9085 resin that meets aerospace industry standards for traceability. In addition, the polymer parts weigh 1.3 grams per cubic centimeter, compared with 2.7 grams for aluminum. The company is using printers to make the multiple ducts, attachments, clips, and inserts that make up air distribution systems. BWT is exploring the potential to use the technology to make other aircraft components in the future and it plans to further expand 3D printing capability in the future.
Enter the BWT AM Centre
The dedicated, scalable BWT Additive Manufacturing Centre integrates strict manufacturing, process and quality controls. This ensures that every manufactured part is consistent – with the added benefit of reduced lead time, lower cost and weight. Significant investment has been made over the past three years with regards to material characterization and machine/process controls. To date, these investments have resulted in over 100 part numbers becoming aerospace-qualified across four major OEM aircraft programs.
BWT’s AM capabilities are able to offer a new viable option when it comes to low-to-medium volume aerospace parts. Certain types of parts that previously would have been manufactured in aluminum, can now be produced more efficiently in thermoplastic, using AM technology. BWT has predominantly used thermoplastics in its conventionally manufactured parts with aluminum interfaces. What BWT can offer, are CAD designs based on live test data, from which its engineers can very rapidly and economically 3D print test parts to confirm the final design function.
The company has a long history of building purpose-built facilities on its premises and have done the same for our AM department. The dedicated facility is temperature and humidity-controlled to meet material demands. It also boasts certified and calibrated hand measurement tools including purpose-built, part-specific validation gauges. The AM facilities include appropriate dimensional verification equipment, such as point and scanning CMM, highly functional printed part pre- and post-processing stations and a state-of-the-art vacuum drying oven for material conditioning. Among BWT’s unique capabilities are the requisite quality procedures, manufacturing processes and testing under AS9100 and ISO9001 controls.