Senior Aerospace BWT has begun making low-pressure air ducting systems using a pair of Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printers. The new process is delivering cost savings of up to around 75 percent on some parts and smaller quantity orders compared with manufacturing processes using aluminum.
The UK-based manufacturer says its investment in 3D printing also means weight savings of around 50 percent on some components as well as greater flexibility in production lead times. The Fortus 450mc printers use Stratasys’s Ultem 9085 resin that meets aerospace industry standards for traceability in terms of being able to certify the exact raw materials and filaments supplied so that each printed part can be matched directly to the source of the material. The resin weighs 1.3 grams per cubic centimeter, compared with 2.7 grams for aluminum.
Senior Aerospace makes air distribution systems for airliners seating up to around 150 passengers, as well as for various helicopters, business jets, and military aircraft. The company took its first steps in additive manufacturing 10 years ago and has been gradually expanding its capability. Four years ago, it took the decision to invest in the fused deposition modeling technique supported by the Stratasys equipment.
Before beginning full-scale production it conducted around 700 test samples, evaluating their tensile strength and subjecting them to compression, flexing, and high temperatures. Some of the parts have gone through around half a million pressure cycle tests.
The company is using the printers to make the multiple ducts, attachments, clips, and inserts that make up air distribution systems that ventilate aircraft cabins and cool avionics equipment. There can be anywhere between three and 500 ducts on an aircraft and using 3D printing the firm said it can produce components in just eight hours, compared with traditional lead times as long as eight weeks.
At its Macclesfield facility in northwest England, Senior Aerospace has made space for six of the Fortus 450mc printers, and it has spent an undisclosed six-figure sum to buy the first two units. It plans to further expand 3D printing capability and is exploring the potential to use it to make other aircraft components currently made from aluminum or other composite manufacturing processes.
“In many cases, minimum order quantities for off-the-shelf aluminum parts make traditional manufacturing simply unviable when we may only need a handful for one aircraft,” explained Senior Aerospace CEO Darren Butterworth. “If you add to that the small, complex geometries of some parts, it just does not warrant the cost and time to CNC machine them in aluminum.”