American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and Singapore-based engineering company ST Engineering have announced the industrialization of a process for 3D printing aero-engine components for the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of commercial engines. The partners also unveiled the first application using the process, an aero-engine part that is expected to be fully integrated into the repair process by mid-2020 at Component Aerospace Singapore, Pratt & Whitney’s repair specialist in the region.
Pratt & Whitney and partners at Component Aerospace Singapore and ST Engineering’s Land Systems division have been exploring the use of 3D printing for aircraft engine MRO in a bid to achieve faster and more flexible repair solutions for Pratt & Whitney’s engines.
The 3D printed part in question will be used in a fuel system component for one of Pratt & Whitney’s engine models. Each partner contributed to its development and industrialization: ST Engineering provided its production-grade metal 3D printing capabilities, while Pratt & Whitney brought its strong knowledge of metal AM to the table.
“Thanks to the out-of-the-box thinking by our employees at Component Aerospace Singapore, we are now another step closer to scaling the technology to meet our growing aftermarket operations, and industrializing 3D printing for the industry,” said Brendon McWilliam, Executive Director, Aftermarket Operations, Asia Pacific. “This groundbreaking innovation is part of the wider technology roadmap by Pratt & Whitney to introduce advanced technologies that integrate artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation across our operations as part of our digital transformation. We are well-placed to better meet today’s demands and anticipate tomorrow’s customer needs, without compromising our high standards of quality and reliability.”
On a broader scale, additive manufacturing is poised to disrupt the MRO industry, as it provides a way to produce parts on-demand with the ability to meet complex specifications. In the aerospace sector, the technology is already being implemented for MRO services for interior aircraft components. Another notable benefit of utilizing metal additive manufacturing for producing aero-engine components is that it offers an alternative material solution, minimizing the dependency on material supply from more conventional manufacturing processes like forging and casting.
“3D printing will be a game-changer for the MRO industry worldwide, especially in servicing even more commercial engines,” commented Chin-Huat Sia, Principal Engineer at Component Aerospace Singapore. “This technology enables greater flexibility in our inventory management. Following this trailblazing initiative, both Pratt & Whitney and ST Engineering will examine how additive manufacturing can be applied for other aviation components and other engine types, and further developed to enable hybrid repairs and realize the full potential of 3D printing for commercial aftermarket operations.”
As a first for Pratt & Whitney, the 3D printed aero-engine part for MRO underwent extensive reviews and testing. Throughout the part’s development, all three partners reviewed its technical data to assure the printing process and resulting component not only met the requirements of Pratt & Whitney, but also of the aviation industry.
Tan Chor Kiat, Senior Vice President of Kinetics Design & Manufacturing at ST Engineering, said: “To 3D print an aero-engine component for a working air turbine engine is a first for us. This also demonstrates our advanced capability to offer a full turnkey manufacturing solution which not only includes production-level 3D printing, but also post processes such as heat treatment and machining. Our customers expect high standards of quality from us. For this project, we are able to deliver an aerospace component that meets not only the high quality standards required, but also the stringent requirements by the aviation authorities.”