3D Printing Takes Off

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar


Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, has evolved beyond its plastic beginnings. The medical industry uses the technique with living cells to create tissues and, perhaps one day, organs. In aerospace, AM produces stronger and lighter components, while reducing waste of costly high-tech metal alloys. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in April certified the first 3D-printed jet engine part, a house for a compressor inlet temperature sensor called T25, made by GE Aviation.

Conventional manufacturing involves casting a solid part, then milling, boring, sawing, drilling or planing it into shape or hollowing it out, like a sculptor with a block of marble—but using precision machines.

By contrast, AM deposits the raw material—such as aluminum, nickel alloys, titanium or stainless steel—in powder form, 20 to 40 microns thick, which is then melted with a laser according to a 3D computer model. AM then uses several binding techniques, including selective laser melting, direct metal laser sintering and laser deposition technology.

This process has three major advantages over traditional manufacturing: speed, cost and design.

Speed: Time is saved from the moment the design leaves the drawing board.
“To come up with a prototype for any component may take a year: to make castings, get molds in place, then manufacturing, then the assembles required,” says Joseph Markiewicz, plant manager at General Electric Aviation’s $50 million additive manufacturing plant in Auburn, Ala.

With additive, you go from designing a prototype in a 3D model, then test it out and redesign almost on the fly. It’s rapid design validation.”

The supply chain also is shorter. Raw material procurement for conventional manufacturing requires six to 12 months lead time, says Thomas Dautl, head of production technologies at MTU Aero Engines AG in Munich. Then machining of the components takes time, but “if you build your part directly out of powder, you have much shorter lead times.”

iStock_000041686948_SmallFinally, the manufacturing process itself is faster. MTU uses AM to make borescope bosses, which form part of the turbine case on the PW1100G-JM engine for the Airbus 320neo aircraft. More than 10 borescope bosses can be made simultaneously, Mr. Dautl says, and with fewer workers than in conventional manufacturing where workers guide the casting or milling process for each piece produced.

Cost: “What’s really key about additive manufacturing is it’s really efficient from the perspective of materials consumption,” Mr. Markiewicz says. “In additive, you have less waste. Before, you had a piece of metal that you ground down. Now you build up.” With no pile of excess raw material at the end of the process, AM can generate significant savings.

Less wastage is vital, because “you have to have more than a 10%-15% cost reduction otherwise you can’t do it,” notes Mr. Dautl. “There are a lot of other costs if you change to another technique, so you must have a significant cost reduction overall” to justify the switch.

There are also savings to be gained from greater simplicity. GE Aviation uses AM to make fuel nozzles for the new LEAP jet engines manufactured by CFM, a joint venture between GE Aviation and Snecma. Whereas a traditional nozzle comprises 20 different, precision-made components, all produced by traditional methods, and then welded or brazed together, the AM fuel nozzle consists of a single piece.

“There’s significant simplification of the process,” Mr. Markiewicz says, “and better consistency because there are fewer points of variation thanks to having fewer pieces.”

In addition, the AM nozzles are not only more durable, they also weigh 25% less than traditionally produced versions. That is important because “weight reduction is significant for anything in the aviation world,” Mr. Markiewicz says, and each engine has 19 fuel nozzles. The new nozzles help aircraft cut fuel consumption 15%.

Design: As the new fuel nozzle illustrates, AM can produce designs that traditional methods cannot. AM allows “more organic design and organic structure,” Mr. Markiewicz says.

In nature, there are no right angles. Nature finds best the angles for tensile strength. Additive can do this. It has removed the handcuffs that design engineers have typically been held to. Now they can design for hollow internal passageways that are stronger and lighter weight. It opens up a new canvas for designers.”

iStock_000045466576_SmallIndeed, future design departments will need to integrate the complex geometries possible with AM, as well as adjust to new possibilities for lightweight design, MTU’s Mr. Dautl says. Evolving computer-aided design (CAD) software will be able to produce complex designs for 3D printed parts that are hollow for lighter weight yet stronger than what could be made traditionally. CAD programs also will be able to work out loads and constraints for new materials that can be 3D printed.

“It’s a new way of thinking for engineers and manufacturing organizations: producing a 3D model and printing it,” Mr. Markiewicz says. “You’re eliminating the middle steps and creating a seamless flow between design and manufacturing.”



Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

#Rosetta: 3D-Modeling and 3D-Printing Comet #67P

By Fred

On November 12, 2014, Philae will land (or not!) on the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet! Also known as “67p” or its nickname “TCHOURI”.

The Rosetta mission started 10 years ago by the European Spatial Agency (ESA), went through more than 6 billions kilometers, and Rosetta engineers will hope to make space history by landing the “Philae” robot on the surface of this icy comet for the first time, the comet being about 2.4 miles (4km) wide. You can follow the latest news on the ESA website, this a real challenge, a world first!

Thanks to many photos took by the Rosetta cameras while in orbit around the comet, a 3D model of the comet has been reconstructed based on images from the OSIRIS and NAVCAM cameras.

67p comet photos

Because roughly 30% of the ‘dark side’ of 67P/C-G has not been resolved and analysed fully yet, the shape model is very incomplete over those regions. As a result, some of the derived parameters for the comet are only best estimates at present.

3DS Fablab worked hard to create 3D Printed parts from the 3D model generated from photos, and for this special event, hosted by “La cité des Sciences” in Paris, in which 3D prints will be offered to VIPs invited to witness this unique event live. Using the Form1 printer from FormLabs, the result is quite impressive, and will give attendees an opportunity to better feel and understand the shape and surface of this comet. Watch the video of the project below:

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Dassault Systèmes is proud to be a partner of this event, but you too can 3D-print the comet by downloading the 3D file provided by the ESA on the MadeIn3D Community!

The event will be held at La Cité des sciences et de l’Industrie, in multiplex with ESA center in Darmstadt, Germany and the space museum in Toulouse, France. People will be able the see the first landscape from the comet landing viewpoint, and get the first scientific data transmitted by Philae. This moment should be of great emotion! The event program should begin on November 12, 2014 at 3.30 PM Paris time (exact hour can vary, you’ll understand why :-) ). Till then, you will want to watch this fantastic short film directed by Oscar-winning Tomek Bagiński and starring Aidan Gillen—Littlefinger of Game of Thrones—about the importance of the Rosetta mission:

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Comet photos courtesy from ESA. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team.

Can 3D-printing help kids learn how to write?

By Fred

Every day, we see great things coming from the 3DS Fablab, this time we decided to share with you this story, simple in terms of technology but innovative in terms of usage. Working with a Montessori school having innovative education methods it illustrates how 3DEXPERIENCE can contribute in places we would never think about! The tool has been originally designed by Maria Montessori, with the Italian language in mind, so without the difficult French phonemes like the “nasals”. This French specificity is actually one reason for explaining the delay of “explosion into writing” in the French Montessori schools compared to the world average. Following a recent study, the French Montessori Association now recommends the schools to enrich the alphabets with digraphs. As the kids start by writing the sounds (orthography comes later), it is important that they pick only one element for each sound.

3D printed letters

Thanks to these new digrams, there are no more obstacles standing between the children and the messages they are attempting to write. They can write everything and are no longer blocked by complex sounds (“phonemes“) in french such as “ou”, “oi”, “on”, “an”, etc…

Christophe created 3D models of solid digraphs (combinations of 2 letters) so they can improve their tools for writing learning. The digraphs in French are “an”, “ai”, “on”, “ch”, “gn”, etc. Handcrafting of all these digraphs would be very time consuming and inelegant, even if the result is not strictly identical to their existing letters (style, color, thickness). Watch how Christophe used 3D printing and 3DEXPERIENCE to come up with a creative solution:

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The Montessori school is now using this a 3D-printed set of solid letters that the kids use to compose words and sentences. M. Mazzantini, Director of Ecole Montessori Internationale – Jardin du Luxembourg shared her feedback :

Thank you for this wonderful gift that allows the children to take further steps towards writing. It facilitates their autonomy and helps them to master their writting skills at a relatively early age (4, 4 and a half)”.

Hope you will enjoy the story, learning how to write with 3D-printing, a joint project with a Paris-based Montessori school (Ecole Montessori Internationale – Jardin du Luxembourg). You can download 3D letters & digrams.

Congrats Christophe for this great idea ! If you want to hear more about the 3DS FabLab, join the MadeIn3D Community.

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