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Higher profits and sustainability, AM’s promise to aerospace

Take a walk with 3dpbm across FIA2022 to discover the applications that are driving the transition to cleaner, leaner flights

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Some things, many things, have changed significantly since the last major aerospace show. For better or worse, air traffic, commercial aircraft demand, growth of the commercial space industry, VTOLs and eVTOLs have undergone some radical changes. One major change in additive manufacturing for aerospace is that many more adopters are now pulling the technology towards them as a way to achieve sustainability instead of AM hardware and AM service providers having to push it onto them. This is one of the key insights that emerged from our conversation with Olivier Ribet, EVP of Dassault Systèmes, and will be further discussed in our upcoming eBook.

While it remains a very small revenue segment in the overall aerospace industry, additive manufacturing is growing and even more importantly, it’s bringing profits to an industry that needs them. The recent drop in commercial air traffic and the growing expenses due to the ongoing transition towards sustainable flying both require significant resources. Even if AM also require a high initial investment and entire paradigm shifts in production workflows, once an application and its workflow have been validated as safe and profitable, scaling them for the relatively low batch production demanded by aerospace applications can be a matter of increasing machine count. Digital manufacturing works this way, even more so when it’s additive.

Sustainable

“A major transition is now underway,” Mr Ribet, Executive Vice President. Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, of Dassault Systèmes, confirmed during our exclusive interview at FIA2022, “Our 3DEXPERIENCE suite is here to enable these major shifts in the way aircraft and many of their parts are built and run.”

“When you look at what we do, for example, with Airbus on the next generation of planes that will be running on hydrogen, this will completely change what’s happening in an engine in terms of combustion and materials used. More importantly, this will require rethinking some of the industrial processes that they have been implementing for the past 15-20 years. And, especially in the manufacturing space, they are starting to blend more and more additive methods because subtractive is costly, painful, and not really sustainable.

“A major trend that we see is that a lot of companies who were previously exploring additive as a way of being more productive, more efficient and more profitable are now driven by a large sustainability agenda, where they need to prove that the way they produce is greener than before. So it is becoming more and more difficult for a company to take a piece of metal and mill it down saying they re-use all the scrap metal. Now the governments of China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Spain and many other countries are starting to inspect the way it’s done, and the regulation is going to change. This means that additive is no longer just a way to produce a little bit faster or more cost-effectively but that it is going to become a requirement. They are going to be forced to change the process and the methods. At Dassault Systemes, with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, we look at this transition from a scientific standpoint,  through material science, modeling, and physics simulations, but also at a process level to make sure that there is this connection between what you build and how you build it.”

For the largest aerospace OEMs, this is also reflected in some of the most ambitious and futuristic programs, such as Airbus’ Wing of Tomorrow and the Boeing ecoDemonstrator.

Airbus Wing of Tomorrow

During FIA2022, Airbus’ presented the results of the transnational R&T program – Wing of Tomorrow – which has successfully delivered the first full-size wing prototype or ‘demonstrator’ that will help mature next-generation wing technologies. The completion of the first of three fully composite wing demonstrators marks the integration of more than 100 different component and manufacturing technologies that include an all-new industrial assembly system, and which have helped validate key automation targets.

Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer, said: “Wing of Tomorrow brings a completely different build philosophy to the way we currently assemble wings and is a crucial part of our R&T portfolio that will help us assess the industrial feasibility of wing production in the future.” Ms Klauke highlighted how AM is just one of many technologies implemented, with particular benefits in tool and jig manufacturing during the production process. Answering a question brought by 3dpbm, Sue Partridge, Head of Airbus Filton Site and Head of Wing of Tomorrow Programme at Airbus, also confirmed that, while the size of the parts and materials required generally exclude the use of currently available AM technologies, some final wing parts have been integrated into at least one of the demonstrators. These are exactly the types of applications that the Wing of Tomorrow program looks to explore.

Boeing ecoDemonstrator

Shortly before FIA2022 and again during the show, Boeing unveiled its 2022 ecoDemonstrator airplane, marking 10 years of testing technologies through the program. As part of the program, a Boeing-owned 777-200 Extended Range serves as a test bed for 30 new technologies, including a water and weight conservation system and utilizing new additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) parts that help reduce fuel consumption and weight.

The team plans to power the 777-200ER throughout its test period using a 30/70 blend of sustainable aviation fuel and conventional jet fuel. The program is continuing its multi-year partnership with National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study the emission improvements of sustainable aviation fuel.

Take a walk with 3dpbm across FIA2022 to discover how AM is driving profitability and sustainability in aerospace manufacturing

“When the industry talks about 2050 goals for getting to net zero carbon emissions – 2050 isn’t really an abstract idea to me,“ said Addison Salzman, an airplane platform leader with the program who has been at Boeing for five years. “That’s going to happen well before I retire. So when I think about 2050 goals, I think about what are the goals for my career. It’s really all of our jobs to think about sustainability and how it affects our work so that we can make the right choices.”

One of the additively manufactured parts is the exhaust duct support panel of the APU, the auxiliary power unit located in the rear of the aircraft. Another AM part in the ecoDemonstrator 2022 is an engine and both were developed by the Boeing Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center with the goal of reducing weight on the airplane, saving fuel and optimizing the manufacturing process.

Cfm (GE, Safran) on the RISE

And things really are changing. From an AM point of view, the giant GE9X engine powering Boeing’s 777x planes is already part of history, even if it is not yet flying on commercial aircraft. The most powerful jet engine in the world is a marvel of modern engineering and its 300 3D printed parts helped to achieve it. The next revolution for Cfm, a joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran, is called RISE and it is expected to be a successor to the very successful LEAP engine, the first to feature critical 3D printed parts such as the fuel nozzle.

While there are no official confirmations, the RISE engine will feature numerous 3D printed parts (a fully 3D printed model is already available to show its interesting open fan design). Building on four decades of investment in making engines cleaner, quieter, and more efficient, the RISE Program is meant to accelerate the development of new propulsion technologies, paving the way for the next generation of aircraft and an ever more sustainable future.

Take a walk with 3dpbm across FIA2022 to discover how AM is driving profitability and sustainability in aerospace manufacturing

Profitable and proven

The more these new technologies and manufacturing processes will make their way onto tomorrow’s aircraft, the more business will be driven towards those companies that are already offering profitable and sustainable AM services and 3D printed aerospace parts. Dr Michael Seuss, Executive Chairman at Oerlikon, explained clearly during last year’s AMTC: the reason why companies continue to invest in AM capabilities, in spite of so many challenges associated with it, is that once you identify a profitable application you can start generating profits with it right away. Oerlikon is exploring these benefits to the fullest in the aerospace industry, as an AM powder supplier, a 3D printing service provider and a coating service provider (for part finishing).

Take a walk with 3dpbm across FIA2022 to discover how AM is driving profitability and sustainability in aerospace manufacturing

Across its sites, Oerlikon runs 42 metal PBF 3D printers, including some of the most productive systems from EOS, Trumpf, 3D Systems/GF, Renishaw and Concept Laser. Oerlikon was present at FIA2022 with numerous applications. One that particularly stood out was Red Horn 1 Feed BEAM 023, a large communication component (antenna) for Airbus’ AngoSat-2 satellite. This production part is 3D printed as a single component with an integrated bracket.

US-based ATI (Allegheny Technologies) is very similar to Oerlikon in its approach to AM, in the sense that the company began offering AM services after establishing itself as a supplier of advanced metal powders, including AM-specific powders. ATI Specialty Materials is one of the largest suppliers of metal AM powders, from “standard” nickel, titanium, aluminum and steel alloys all the way to niobium and copper. As a fully integrated supplier, ATI additive employs a full suite of capabilities throughout the additive supply chain, with AM production capabilities in both EBM (GE Arcam) and DMLS (EOS)/SLM (SLM) for additive parts. For a giant like ATI, generating nearly $3 billion in yearly revenues, AM materials represent less than 1% of global revenues however the ability to offer 3D printing services represents an opportunity to offer high-value-added services and generate profits while growing its AM business.

From North America to Asia, Hitachi Metals was also present at FIA to show its new line of ADMUSTER metal AM powders, including steel-, nickel- and chromium-based corrosion-resistant alloys, coupled with advanced metal AM production capabilities and services.

More pure play production AM scenarios come from Burloak, the AM division of Samuel. The Canadian company, the first Boeing BAC 5673 specification approved supplier for components 3D printed in Tekna or IMR aluminum (AlSi10Mg), is finalizing its new production facility in California and looking to scale production of aircraft parts. For now, the main business remains space, with satellite parts showing the clearest value propositions. While Burloak can boast significant production capabilities, the company’s business is based on high-value applications, where it can offer full DfAM support all the way through to advanced NDT and HIP capabilities. Such parts may not represent a share of aerospace production but they can generate significant profitability.

HiETA Technologies (part of Meggit) got even more specific and identified heat exchangers as a key profitable part to produce via AM and is now focusing exclusively on this area of applications, developing highly specialized know-how and strategically working with UK companies such as Renishaw (on metal AM hardware) and BAE (as a key adopter).

Several other companies showed high-value 3D printed aerospace parts, including companies that are moving into the aerospace segment bringing capabilities from other sectors. That is an added benefit of AM. For example Lincotek, a large metal AM production service provider in Italy with a strong focus on medical implants and devices, was present at FIA2022 to show the first results of the new partnerships signed with French metal AM service Volum-e. In this case, the companies mutually benefit with Volum-e providing aerospace expertise and Lincotek contributing with high metal PBF productivity.

Similarly, Pankl Racing Systems, a large Austrian metal AM service provider with a very strong focus on motorsports, is taking its know-how into aerospace with the more recently established Pankl Aerospace Systems division. Or, like in the case of Eaton, the company is using AM experience in manifolds and other complex parts from the energy segment to target aerospace applications. The company revealed it was able to have two AM parts flying on a trainer aircraft less than two years after it began developing them. The parts were consolidated from a total of 22 parts, reducing assembly time, and weight and eliminating potential leaks.

Take a walk with 3dpbm across FIA2022 to discover how AM is driving profitability and sustainability in aerospace manufacturing

Innovative

AM is now increasingly at the heart of the newest aerospace technologies. During and after the COVID crisis, new means of personal aerial transportation emerged and are now closer to seeing commercial adoption. Vertical, a UK-based, very well-funded eVTOL company, has nearly finished its first functional prototype, less than two years after it began developing it. Representatives from the company revealed how 3D printing, used mostly for prototyping and tooling at this time, helped achieve this result.

Skyrora, another UK company (based in Scotland), uses additive manufacturing for its rocket engines like many other space startups around the world. In just two years, Skyrora was able to open a new manufacturing and production facility, the largest of its kind in the UK.

Now the maiden testing of the second stage of the Skyrora XL rocket can now be performed from UK soil, having been fully manufactured and assembled in-house. This includes the assembly of the 70kN engine, the most powerful commercially-produced liquid engine in the UK, which has been built using 3D printed engine components.

Take a walk with 3dpbm across FIA2022 to discover how AM is driving profitability and sustainability in aerospace manufacturing

More additive manufacturing innovation happens at the hardware level and can have some important consequences for aerospace. Companies like Italy’s Caracol and US-based MELD Manufacturing are developing gigantic AM systems for composites (Caracol) and metal (MELD) using innovative approaches.

Caracol’s expertise in robotic material extrusion and ISO 9100 facility enables the production of very large tools and even final parts across a wide range of industries. MELD is using its friction stir welding AM technology and collaborating with gantry architecture tooling experts Ingersoll to produce the largest metal 3D printer in the world, capable of building vehicle-size parts. These new approaches will drive more innovation across aerospace, and the cycle will continue.

Did you enjoy this article? Do you want to learn more about how AM is affecting and is implemented for production in the aerospace industry? Don’t miss 3dpbm’s latest AM Focus 2022 Aerospace eBook.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based 3dpbm. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites 3D Printing Media Network and Replicatore, as well as 3D Printing Business Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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