Additive Manufacturing for Aircraft parts
The great challenge of equipping aircraft with weight-saving parts for increase in fuel efficiency and/or payload has long started before common adoption of additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing). Whether it is for cabin interiors or engine components, the 3D printing revolution has brought about mindset shift in the way aircraft manufacturers and OEMs design and source their components. Additive Manufacturing (AM) has made it possible to replace many aircraft components from traditional manufacturing methods. AM parts are produced efficiently with less material wastage. The lower weight of the components also leads to savings in aircraft fuel consumption, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes to environmental sustainability for the aviation industry. Additive Flight Solutions Pte. Ltd. (AFS) specializes in 3D-printed aircraft cabin components. Founded in Singapore in 2018, the company is a joint venture between SIA Engineering Company and Stratasys. It brings together the know-how in additive manufacturing to complement the experience in maintenance, repair, and overhaul of aircraft and OEM parts
Manufacturing without tools Additive manufacturing is a tool-free manufacturing process, allowing components to be delivered in a fraction of the time as compared to conventional manufacturing. The parts are designed in CAD programs and forwarded directly from the design file to the connected 3D printer.
Additive manufacturing is not constrained by the limits of conventional manufacturing processes. It makes possible the manufacture of part geometries with complex designs, which were not possible with conventional manufacturing processes. A major advantage is also the consolidation of individual parts and assemblies into a single manufactured part. This simplifies the supply chain and increases product availability.
Certified Aircraft Parts printed by AFS In plastic 3D printing, there are currently only a few materials approved for use in passenger airplanes. AFS uses the airworthiness authorities’ approved Ultem9085 material. This material features a high strength-to-weight-ratio, very good heat resistance, as well as high impact resistance. It also possesses favorable flame, smoke, and toxicity (FST) characteristics. AFS has produced thousands of aircraft interior parts with Ultem 9085, such as cocktail trays, reinforcement parts for seats and covers, and door lever safety catches for the B787 aircraft doors. AFS works with Stratasys Fortus printers that currently produce parts up to 400x350x400mm with a standard accuracy of +/- 0.254 mm or 0.015mm/mm (whichever is greater). Stefan Roeding, DGM at AFS, mentions, “AFS manufactures the plastic cabin interior parts in accordance with Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) airworthiness certification standards.”
Increasing importance in the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul industry Especially for single components and production quantities of about 500 pieces, 3D printed parts are often cheaper than, for example, injection molded parts. In the MRO industry, AFS uses high-tech mobile scanners to digitize damaged components. In cooperation with Design Organization Approval (DOA) holders’ design and manufacturing requirements, these scanned parts may be re-designed, modified, and produced within a very short timeframe with relevant certification. This allows the replacement of damaged items on demand, which is especially important for the first and business class cabins to prevent erosion of premium class passengers’ revenue and to maintain high cabin standards and airline image. In addition to what is offered in terms of weight savings, faster availability, and better performance, additive manufactured parts offer an increasing differentiator—Customization of parts including design elements unique to the airlines or OEMs, without significant financial or manufacturing efforts.