Lufthansa Technik, a supplier of maintenance, repair and overhaul services (MRO) for aircraft and engines, has opened an Additive Manufacturing Center. The new center will enable the company to expand and accelerate its use of 3D printing for its services and leverage the benefits the technology offers.
The AM Center, which will operate under the Product Divisions Engines and Components, will emphasize collaboration and will be based on the existing competencies that Lufthansa Technik has established with additive manufacturing.
“The new AM Center will serve as a collaborative hub where the experience and skills that Lufthansa Technik has gained in additive manufacturing can be bundled and further expanded,” said Dr. Aenne Koester, head of the AM Center. “The aim is to increase the degree of maturity of the technologies and to develop products that are suitable for production.”
On the collaboration front, a team of Lufthansa Technik experts have been working with additive manufacturing specialists from the industry and from academics. Together, they have and will be exploring existing 3D printing applications for aircraft maintenance and part production as well as new avenues and strategies to push the adoption of AM forward.
Based on the company’s announcement of the center, it seems they will be primarily be investigating the technology for the same reasons other MRO and aerospace firms are: increased design freedom compared to traditional manufacturing processes, lightweighting and optimization features, and the ability to produce prototypes, small batch or one-off parts rapidly. The ability to lightweight parts for aircraft can have huge potentials in terms of cost and fuel efficiency.
The center will also be focused—somewhat inevitably—on ensuring that its adoption and use of 3D printing complies with the strict regulations of the commercial aircraft industry. Many of the strategies devised by the in house team and industry experts will be centered on this challenge.
For instance, Lufthansa Technik is collaborating with Oerlikon AM to enhance process repeatability, a crucial part of industrializing and certifying AM for the aerospace market. The study in question will see component geometries 3D printed on three identical 3D printers all in different locations. This variable will help the partners to understand the various factors and parameters that influence the performance of a 3D printed part.
The work conducted by Lufthansa Technik and Oerlikon AM is ultimately aimed at accelerating the industrialization of AM and establishing standards for 3D printed aircraft components, as results from their joint study will eventually be shared with relevant industrial bodies.
Another key focus area will be on highly stressed engine components made from nickel-based alloys. Presently, the company is one of a limited group that is capable of achieving a “powder bed fusion hybrid batch repair,” which is essentially when a damaged part is repaired by replacing lost material using AM. Moving forward, it plans to tighten tolerances for this process even more.