Why Additive Manufacturing Works for the Aerospace Industry

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

The aerospace industry is leading innovation in additive manufacturing on several fronts, including applications, materials, processes and design.

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, may be well-suited to the aerospace industry, as long as the technology is certified and the cost comes down. This industry needs to make complex parts in low volumes from high-performance materials, while constantly seeking new ways to lower costs. While AM can cost more than traditional machining methods, it provides savings on materials—which can be substantial when using expensive metals such as titanium.

“There has recently been a real tectonic shift in the way large aerospace companies are investing in additive manufacturing,” says Kamran Mumtaz, lecturer in additive manufacturing at the Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing at the University of Sheffield, U.K.

Here are some areas of innovation:

NEW APPLICATIONS

AM originally was used to make plastic models and prototypes for basic form and fitting applications, but not for functional testing. Then AM was used to make plastic parts for functional applications. “More recently, it has been used for brackets, ventilation ducts and parts to hold wires and cables in place,” says Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, a Fort Collins, Colorado, AM consulting firm. “Now, more parts are being made of metal AM, and I have seen no fewer than 25 new and innovative designs from one major aerospace company, alone,” he says.

Aircraft Turbine“With traditional manufacturing, many parts must be assembled from smaller pieces, because of the limits on what shapes can be cast, milled or molded,” Mr. Wohlers explains. “The technique of building in layers allows for parts to be combined digitally that could include 20, 50 or 100 parts into one, two or three parts,” he says. Fewer parts means big savings in expensive manufacturing processes, assembly, labor, inventory and maintenance, he says, adding that companies also are seeing a reduction in certification paperwork, because each part must conform to the strict requirements of regulatory agencies.

IMPROVED MATERIALS

Polymers, or plastics, are the most mature technology, but titanium 6-4, which can be difficult to grind or weld, is the most popular because of how well it works in AM, along with aluminum, nickel, stainless steel, and cobalt chrome.

New materials would require going through a qualification process, which takes several years. However, researchers are looking at feed stocks, optimal particle sizes and recyclability of leftover powder, says Bill Peter, director of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The laboratory recently made the largest 3D-printed component, which wasn’t a plane part but a trim tool to make the extended wing section of the new Boeing 777X. Traditionally made of metal, the AM tool was made of a composite of polymers with chopped carbon fiber. The AM tool is faster and cheaper to make than a metal one, Dr. Peter says.

Work is being done on AM composites that can withstand high pressures and temperatures as high as 176°C (350°F). “It would have tremendous savings for tooling in the composite industry for air applications,” he says. “Eventually, we want to understand how to bring the best materials to a problem set and come up with hybrid solutions,” using metals, polymers and ceramics.

AM makes it possible to alter microstructures as the materials are processed, which can affect their strength and flexibility. For example, one AM company “can blend two or more polymers and, consequently, can make one location of a part rigid and gradually transition to soft and elastic in another location,” Mr. Wohlers says.

IMPROVED PROCESSES

jet engineThe most common AM method for making metal parts is to lay a bed of powder and to melt it, layer by layer, with a laser or an electron beam, following a programmed design. However, the AM machines remain limited in size, so most of the parts made are small and in limited volumes.

“At Sheffield, we’re developing new manufacturing processes that improve on efficiency, build speed and enhance the properties of the components,” Dr. Mumtaz says. “We have a metallic-powder-bed manufacturing process, called diode-area melting, or DAM, that has the potential to be 10 times faster than conventional selective laser melting.”

Selective laser melting uses a single laser. Increasing speed requires a more powerful laser or integration of multiple lasers. “DAM replaces a single-point laser with up to 20 laser diodes. You can scan an entire powder bed faster,” he says.

The University of Sheffield also is building a 3D printer that uses high-speed sintering of polymers, with an infrared lamp on an inkjet printer, that’s about 100 times faster than laser sintering.

IMPROVED DESIGNS

Topology optimization is the mathematical technique employed to find the best way to “use minimal materials and minimal weight, but fulfill the needs of the part,” Mr. Wohlers says.

When grinding a part, 80% to 90% can be scrap. Additive Manufacturing is the opposite of that: you can do a highly convoluted, complex shape that can reduce materials and weight by 40% to 50% sometimes.”

INTERNET OF THINGS

AM machines are equipped with cameras and sensors to track the fabrication, point by point, including in the middle of a part as it’s being formed. “We’re capturing the information and using data analytics to see what’s going on,” Dr. Peter says.

Eventually, manufacturers would like to incorporate sensors into the parts, to monitor them for temperature, humidity, vibration or other data. However, sensors and metal or polymers are “dissimilar materials—and that makes things complicated,” Dr. Peter says. “While research activities are stepping up in the area of embedded sensors, there is a need for continued research to commercialize.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Takeuchi Streamlines Product Development with 3DEXPERIENCE

By Alyssa
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11-2-2016-9-47-29-am

With rising investment in infrastructure around the globe, the heavy construction equipment industry is poised for a high rate of growth.  Clearly, that is good news for companies in that industry.  But there is a hitch. At the same time, those very companies are faced with adapting their businesses to meet the needs of the Experience Economy, which has created an environment where customers are increasingly demanding custom machine configurations.  How can a company transform itself in a time of high demand?

This was the challenge faced by Takeuchi, a 50-year old Japanese construction equipment manufacturer with a reputation as a market innovator that produces high-quality products.  Takeuchi set a goal to streamline its development processes in order to help them accelerate delivery of products that meet both customer and regulatory requirements.

Among the key first steps was improving internal processes and unifying a collection of different and incompatible information systems.  Takeuchi chose Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE solutions to provide its employees with an integrated platform for all product-related activities.  This is not limited to its product development designers: Takeuchi’s other departments such as production control and production engineering have access to system data as well.

 

With this platform, we avoid a patchwork-like system of different solutions from different vendors, which is a nightmare to coordinate.”

 

Read a new case study to learn more about the benefits Takeuchi has gained from 3DEXPERIENCE, including:

  • the ability to create more product variants with a fewer number of parts
  • increased re-use of existing parts
  • reduced lead times for new product introductions
  • eliminating the need for physical prototypes

Making Cities Bigger and Better

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Aerial view of Albaicin , Granada City Spain
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, the United Nations Human Settlements Program forecasts. Meanwhile cities themselves are growing, with the number of megacities—those with populations greater than 10 million—expected to hit 41 by 2030, up from 28 today and just 10 in 1990.

The challenge is how to make sprawling, dense cities livable, sustainable and efficient for residents. But priorities for livability aren’t easy to define.

“If you have an older population, then things they see as priorities may be different than in a city with a huge number of young people,” says Stephen Hammer, manager of climate policy for the World Bank Group in Washington, DC. “If you have mass migration of people from the countryside, then the creation of economic opportunities and housing services may be at top of the list. For a period of time, that will be the priority, and as people begin to settle in, ideas will shift about what makes it a desirable place. It may be cleaner air, clean water, access to energy services or access to employment.”

Urban planners do their best to ensure services and amenities like transportation, sanitation, green spaces and more. However, many megacities are growing faster than city services, as informal housing springs up to accommodate the flood of new arrivals.

“People will go to great trouble to get to cities, because there are opportunities there in a way there never were in the countryside,” says Robert Bruegmann, professor emeritus of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the book “Sprawl: A Compact History.”

For poor families, that might require living in a slum. However, “there is self-organization to these things,” he says of slums. “You have to be able to at least wheel a cart through to all the residences. You can’t have a living space that’s inaccessible. Without any formal government, mechanisms to maintain access emerge all over the world.”

Residential buildingWhat hasn’t worked is tearing down the slums to build high-rise housing. “There is not enough public money to house everybody,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The number of units built rarely equals the number torn down. The current accepted wisdom is ‘we’re going to have to let people do self-build housing.’”

Informal “does not equal slum,” cautions Khaled El-Araby, professor of transportation planning and traffic engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo. The Egyptian capital ranks at No. 17 among megacities, according to Demographia, with an estimated population of 15.6 million. The informal areas are simply “built outside formal planning and building regulations of the government,” he says. “In a sense, this is not always bad. When you have a dense, compact city such as Cairo, trips between work and home usually are relatively short. They have contained economic activities there, like workshops and commerce. From an urban-planning perspective, they are OK, but we want higher building standards and a better level of access to basic services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation.”

The urban core of Cairo is very dense, with an estimated 15,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The government has been building new planned cities to accommodate population growth, including a planned new capital city. However, less than 10% of Cairo’s population currently lives in the new cities, Dr. El-Araby notes.

While the planned cities extend mostly east and west of Cairo into the desert, apart from social/economic housing projects supported by the government, Cairo is experiencing a chronic shortage of affordable housing. So, many people opt to move to informal settlements around the urban core of the city, along the Nile—mostly on prime agricultural land, Dr. El-Araby says.

street top view“We cannot relocate around 60% of Cairo’s population. We have to make an assessment of the informal areas that are unsafe and cannot access basic services and relocate those people to viable, serviced areas. For others, we just have to address problems like controlling expansions and residential densities and improving access to services like transportation,” he says.

Future technology might solve some of megacities’ problems. “If we can kick the carbon-fuel habit, then a key part of the argument for public transportation goes out the window,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The issue should never be which is the best settlement pattern.

It should be how do people want to live, and then how to make that possible without doing damage to everyone else and to the environment.”

Developing countries may be able to leapfrog to new technology that makes some current problems moot. Just as one no longer needs a landline to telephone, “we may move to more decentralized energy systems, like solar panels on roof tops,” without a need to run electrical lines everywhere, Dr. Hammer says.

Technology also is aiding urban planners. Analysis of data from sensors and city systems gives decision-makers a better understanding of real use and needs and help them manage and optimize services. Modeling technology can simulate “what if” scenarios.

The World Bank developed a tool called CURB, which uses local data to provide tailored analysis that tells city officials how their decisions may affect greenhouse-gas emissions. Such applications and tools, he says, can help cities “understand which interventions can deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock



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