Meeting Aerospace Industry Challenges with Additive Manufacturing

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Summary

Additive manufacturing (AM) is being embraced across industries.  For most applications, it is additive manufacturingstill used for prototyping. However, as the technology and surrounding ecosystem evolve, additive manufacturing will move increasingly into production environments; first to create tools, jigs, and fixtures on the factory floor and eventually as a production process unto itself. 

In some industries this is already occurring, particularly for parts that would be difficult, too costly, or impossible to produce in a conventional manner.  At this year’s ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida, Brian Neff, the founder and CEO of Sintavia, gave an interesting presentation that illustrated just how transformative additive manufacturing is and will continue to be in the aerospace and defense industry.  Key takeaways from his presentation include:

  • Aircraft components that can only be made through additive manufacturing are lighter and stronger than their traditional counterparts, enabling greener, more efficient fleets.
  • Excellence in additive manufacturing requires deep understanding of each input along the entire production process and their effects on the end product.
  • Design for additive manufacturing is a complex, multi-step process that requires substantial iteration.  To be agile and effective requires a suite of software tools that integrate to make these steps seamless.

Commercial Aviation Has a Problem

Mr. Neff began his presentation by claiming that the commercial aviation industry has a major problem. “Flight shaming,” a Swedish-born movement that calls for curbs to air travel due to its environmental impact, obliges travelers to consider the broader effects of their transportation decisions and threatens the growth of commercial aviation.  A pragmatic solution to this conflict, one that benefits both aviation businesses and the environmentally conscious, is to engineer more efficient aircraft.  Mr. Neff, who has spent his entire career in the aviation industry, recognized this opportunity and identified additive manufacturing as a means to create novel designs to supplant traditional aircraft components and increase fuel efficiency.  With that goal in mind he founded Sintavia, an end-to-end metal additive manufacturing business focusing on aerospace and defense applications. 

Novel Designs for Greener Fleets

Heat exchangers, high pressure ducts, and flow control valves are among the list of parts that Sintavia not only manufactures but helps to redesign to capture the benefits of additive manufacturing.  The turbine bracket shown here was the focus of Mr. Neff’s presentation.

additive manufacturingThe turbine bracket is a perfect candidate to explore design optimization for additive manufacturing.  It has a simple role as a load bearing structure, so a relatively small set of functional specifications must be met for a one-to-one replacement of the OEM design.  Identifying failure mode causes and effects and their corresponding load conditions provides a starting point for the redesign.  These loading constraints are incorporated into a topological optimization program along with the original part design.  The result is a spindly, organic-like structure that can occupy the same envelope and theoretically withstand the same loads as the original part, but with reduced mass.

Sintavia manufactured and tested a series of these redesigns.  Significantly, the tool used to press bearings into the brackets and the fixture used to hold the brackets for tensile strength and fatigue testing were also made on-site via additive manufacturing.  After a series of iterations and tests, the final design was found to be both lighter and more durable than the conventionally manufactured OEM bracket.  Mr. Neff emphasized that in the commercial aviation sector  every gram counts.  For instance, a one-kilogram reduction in mass of a plane design can, over the lifetime of a fleet, reduce fuel consumption by 24,000 gallons and carbon dioxide emissions by 250 tons.

Digital and Physical End-to-end Additive Manufacturing

A key to Sintavia’s success comes from its vertical integration of the entire additive manufacturing process.  The company’s fleet of additive manufacturing systems sits adjacent to post-processing systems for machining, surface finishing, and heat treating.  Furthermore, both the incoming powder and outgoing products are examined for quality by the company’s own testing facility.  This provides Sintavia with deep insight from start to finish of the additive process so its engineers can better understand how changes to raw material properties, product designs, process parameters, and post-processing will affect final part performance.  

additive manufacturing

Just as the company’s manufacturing is streamlined end to end, so is its suite of digital additive manufacturing solutions.  In his presentation, Mr. Neff revealed that Sintavia is migrating away from an assortment of individual additive manufacturing software solutions and adopting the Siemens NX additive manufacturing software suite. This allows engineers to move seamlessly through design, support and position preparation, thermal analysis, build-file creation, post-process computer-aided machining (CAM), and final part inspection programming.   By adopting an end-to-end approach in both the manufacturing and digital domains, Sintavia manages to be agile in product development and reliable in production.  This is no small feat considering the relative youth of additive manufacturing technology, which still lacks the support of industry-wide standards that more established manufacturing processes rely on.

Conclusion

Additive manufacturing offers clear potential benefits for the aerospace and defense industry.  But achieving these benefits requires significant technical understanding of the end-to-end process and the appropriate technology solutions, such as those offered by Siemens.  The strides that Sintavia is making is part of the ongoing growth of the entire additive manufacturing ecosystem. As this knowledge base expands, we will continue seeing novel applications of additive manufacturing displace older designs across industries to create more efficient products and processes.  

Readers can view a video of Mr. Neff’s ARC Industry Forum presentation by clicking here.

 

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Keywords: Additive Manufacturing, Aerospace and Defense, Sintavia, Siemens NX, ARC Advisory Group.

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