Additive manufacturing has been transforming the aerospace industry, unlocking new design possibilities and supply chain flexibility opportunities. In light of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 global crisis, now more than ever, AM can offer aerospace companies new solutions. Aerospace giant Honeywell Aerospace is openly embracing the technology and thinks AM can reshape the way the aerosapce industry works.
Flying through development
Two key areas where the company is now actively implementing AM are for enhancing part design freedom and accelerating development. Honeywell has now established a dedicated additive manufacturing design team and three high-tech labs with expert process engineers and well-trained operations staff to work on rapid prototyping.
For example, in the past, it would not have been easy or even possible to design a turbine blade with curved internal passageways for cooling, because traditional casting methods did not readily allow for such complex shapes. Another example is complex subassemblies: tubes have traditionally been manufactured by welding-formed sheet metal ductwork and casting. 3D printing can now create the entire assembly as a single part number, without the added weight and multiple steps of the old manufacturing methods. The unprecedented level of design freedom from 3D printing leads to weight reduction and improved performance, unlocking tremendous value.
Another benefit 3D printing brings to the table is accelerating the pace of development. Once designed using additive manufacturing, parts can be produced in a matter of days. Since additive manufacturing does not require tooling, parts can be used for initial testing in a fraction of the time. In addition, engineers can iterate to get the most optimal design quickly which saves significant cost and improves speed to market.
While prototyping and DfAM (design for additive manufacturing) are fairly established areas for implementing AM, Honeywell is now also utilizing additive manufacturing to create supply chain flexibility, an issue that became even more pressing after the global COVID outbreak causing supply-chain constraints. These can come from tooling or casting quality issues or simply from general spikes in demand. At Honeywell, additive manufacturing is now providing the surge capacity to respond quickly to produce parts. To enhance this capability, Honeywell has begun an aggressive campaign to qualify an additive-produced alternative to part numbers with the most significant constraints.
The company is also considering the inventory possibilities, where the goal is making inventory challenges a thing of the past. Instead of procuring hundreds of SKUs, then warehousing, securing, tracking and insuring them, AM requires storing only a handful of powders, and print needed parts on demand.
Once the company defined an additive production process, parts can be produced at the touch of a button and then run through post-processing to get them finished. That means that a part can be printed anywhere in the world, where the same printing and processing capabilities are available. This minimizes inventory, storage, shipping costs and delays.
Additive industry partnerships
Additive manufacturing technology is rapidly evolving. It also presents many new challenges that need to be overcome by building strong partnerships to develop new printing strategies, classify material parameters, and test out new machines.
Honeywell is already printing real-production qualified parts flying on aircraft today. Strategic partnerships with machine manufacturers, such as EOS and Velo3D, enable the company to accelerate production and expand tech adoption. Now more than ever, the aviation industry needs an agile supply chain, and that is precisely what these advanced machines bring to the table in the company’s high-tech lab in Phoenix, Arizona.
Growing 3D printing capabilities and capacity is also an ongoing goal and it requires partnering with external AM service providers, such as Sintavia. These collaborations lead to sharing best practices, acquiring more material property information, and defining different strategies to build better parts.
These partnerships accelerate the adoption of additive for production parts and will play an essential role as demand for additively manufactured parts continues to increase.