The UK's GKN Aerospace announced here at the Paris Air Show delivery of an Ariane rocket nozzle produced with additive manufacturing (AM) processes and laser-welded techniques, the first nozzle in flight configuration made with these techniques.
Here at Le Bourget, GKN (Chalet 355) is displaying parts made with AM, a process that can create higher performance components while reducing parts count, costs and manufacturing time. The new rocket nozzle, for example, measuring 2.5 m in diameter, has 90 percent fewer parts (100 vs 1,000), and costs 40 percent less and takes30 percent less time to manufacture compared with. the previous nozzles, said Rob Sharman, GKN’s global head, additive manufacturing. Delivered to Airbus Safran Launchers in France for the Vulcain 2.1 engine, a demonstrator nozzle has already been successfully tested in a full scale engine nozzle test as part of the European Space Agency’s Ariane Research and Technology Accompaniment Program.
GKN will manufacture the nozzle in a new highly automated manufacturing center in its facility in Trollhättan, Sweden, scheduled to open in 2018. Despite its promise, “getting additive manufacturing process parts on flying products isn’t easy,” said Sharman. “We spend a lot of time getting the material integrity properties right. It’s very different from showing parts at a display stand.” Today GKN has AM-made parts selected to fly on seven different platforms. But the company is involved in multiple industries, and is “leveraging our expertise right across business” sectors, Sharman said, to speed AM's development. He noted GKN is also one of the world’s largest suppliers of metallic powders used in AM.
GKN also announced here a new five-year €15.9 million ($17.8 million) research agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, focusing on AM. The first objective will be to develop laser metal deposition with wire (LMD-w), an AM process that builds metal structures by using a laser to melt metal wire into beads onto a substrate, layer by layer. The partnership aims to create a prototype machine that will manufacture complex medium- and large-scale aircraft structures in titanium. The second research focus area will be electron beam melting (EBM), an AM technique that can produce precise, complex small- to medium-size components by using an electron beam to build up the component layer by layer. The partnership aims to make this process ready for introduction into full-scale, high-volume aerospace production.