Multinational conglomerate Honeywell announced this week that it has obtained the first FAA certification for a flight-critical aircraft engine component made using 3D printing. The part in question, #4/5 bearing housing, is a major structural component in the ATF3-6 turbofan engine aboard the Dassault Falcon 20G maritime patrol aircraft, commonly used by the French Navy for rescue and patrol missions. The 3D printed component is already in production and has reportedly already been installed in an in-service aircraft.
The certification for the 3D printed component marks a milestone for the production of rare or obsolete aircraft parts for maintenance operations. The ATF3-6 engine was first designed in the 1960s and today there are only about a dozen operational engines remaining. This inevitably creates challenges for the operators of the Dassault Falcon 20G aircraft when replacement parts are needed. The #4/5 bearing housing is apparently also quite difficult to manufacture, which in the past has made it costly to produce in small quantities for maintenance applications.
Using AM, however, Honeywell has successfully 3D printed the part in the low volumes required without incurring high costs or lead times. The part is also considered to be safety-critical (flight-critical), which means that if the part should fail it could cause a major issue with the aircraft, potentially putting the lives of crew and passengers in peril. These parts are therefore subjected to extensive testing and qualification procedures and must meet stringent guidelines published by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
To achieve this certification for safety critical parts, Honeywell has been working closely with the FAA, and the #4/5 bearing housing is the first 3D printed part to be granted flight-critical approval by the regulatory body. “This is a major milestone for Honeywell because it demonstrates the maturity of our additive manufacturing operations and paves the way for us to print more certified, flight-critical parts in the future,” said Jon Hobgood, Vice President of Manufacturing Engineering at Honeywell Aerospace. “It also is a major win for the additive industry, as flight-critical parts face heavy scrutiny and high standards for qualification and installation on aircraft, but this shows it can be done.”
The #4/5 bearing housing for the ATF3-6 turbofan engine is now in production, and dozens of units of the part are expected to be produced by the end of the year. “Though there aren’t many in service, Honeywell is responsible for supporting and maintaining these engines. We had to find a way to address these supply chain issues and keep these aircraft flying,” added Hobgood. “We were able to use our expertise in additive manufacturing to produce the qualified part much faster, reducing our lead time from approximately two years to two weeks.”
Honeywell has embraced additive manufacturing in recent years: the company first adopted metal AM in 2007 in an R&D capacity; today, it is 3D printing hundreds of aircraft components. The company is working in collaboration with several AM providers, including VELO3D to qualify the Sapphire 3D system for aircraft component production) and SLM Solutions to qualify optimized printing parameters.