Feb.7, 2014

The aerospace industry is an important market for the production of 3D-printed parts. Boeing uses additive manufacturing extensively to produce environmental control system ducting for directing the flow of air on military and commercial aircrafts. Boeing has used 30 3D-printed parts, including environmental control ducts (ECDs) that carry cool air to electronic equipment on its luxurious Dreamliner. These ducts have complicated shapes that formerly had to be assembled from numerous pieces. But with 3D printing they can be printed in one piece, saving time and cost – at a savings of 25% to 50% per part in the process.

As the world's largest manufacturing country, the development of 3D printing technology is important to China. China believes that 3D printing technology will promote the upgrading of the aircraft industry.

Since 2001, China began to focus on the development 3D laser printing technology to make titanium alloy structural components.

J-15 chief architect Sun Cong revealed that 3D printing has been widely used in designing and producing its military aircraft, from the J-16 fighter to the next-generation J-31. The latest carrier fighter prototype which had its first successful test in October and November 2012, used a 3D printer to manufacture its critical titanium alloy load-bearing structure on the aircraft, including the entire nose landing gear.

A large 3D printed titanium part for J-20 or J-31 stealth fighter

Aeronautical materials expert Wang Huamin says China only needs 55 days to "print out" the main windshield frame of a C-919 commercial jet and the parts cost less than $200,000. By comparison, it could take at least two years and US $2 million for a European plane manufacturer using traditional methods.

Wang's team at Beihang University created the world's largest 3D laser printer so far. The team used rapid prototyping technology to produce titanium alloy landing-gear and a large main force-bearing frame for the C919 aircraft which was printed as one piece.

Beihang University invented a new series of 3D printing technology and related software, effectively overcoming metal material deformation, warping, cracking and other problems. In addition, the high-energy laser melts metals into liquid at temperatures of up to several thousand degrees Celsius, requiring a specific oxygen- and nitrogen-free environment.

The traditional approach is to build a large vacuum chamber with the machine, printer, etc inside. The researchers invented new equipment to put 3D printed parts in the protective chambers that only need to be similar in size to the parts. This equipment is convenient, easy to maintain and inexpensive.

Recently, some of the complex, titanium alloy structures produced by Beihang has been approved for use in nuclear power plants and onboard satellites and rockets.

In northwest China, the State Key Laboratory of Solidification Processing, Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU) began its research on Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM) in 1995. The emphasis has been focused on obtaining excellent mechanical properties for LAMed metal parts through careful control of the material microstructures. The material of LAMed parts includes titanium alloys, superalloys, and stainless steel.

In 2013, NPU manufactured a 5 meter long central wing spar with Laser Additive Manufacturing technology for Comac C919 passenger-plane which is expected to be finished in 2014 and to enter commercial service in 2016. A forged part weighs around 1,607 kg, the part produced using laser 3D printing technology weighs only 136 kg and saves 91.5 percent of the materials. Tests show 3D printed parts peform better than the forged parts.

Large 3D printer, with1.8 meter build diameter

China has been focused on developing large-scale 3D printing technology, which, as Wang Hua Ming said, has already surpassed the United States. Back in 2011, Huazhong University of Science and Technology research team in China successfully developed a selective Laser Sintering machine with build volume of 1200mm x 1200mm.

In June 2013, Dalian University of Technology and Unit Science and Technology Development Co. Ltd. developed a laser 3D printer with the maximum processing size of 1.8 m. The building area of ​​this 3D printer reaches to 1.8 x 1.8 x 1.8 meter. With its unique technique of "contour scanning", this 3D printer will shorten processing time by 35% and reduce manufacturing costs by 40% compared to other types of laser 3D printers, according to the team. This laser 3D printer can be used to make casting moulds for large industrial prototypes with complex structures.

Largest 3D printer in the world, capable of printing 6m metal parts

In November 2013, Nanfang Ventilator Co., Ltd announced its largest 3D printing device into the installation and commissioning phase. This will be the first large-scale realization of 3D printing technology. This 3D printer is expected to start production by the end of February 2014, and will also be the world's largest 3D printer for products and equipment.

According to the company, the equipment is 28 meters long, 23 meters wide, and 9.5 meters high. The printer produces heavy metal components with a maximum diameter of 6 m and weighing up to 300 tons.

These parts made using 3D printing have shorter production cycles, lower costs, high performance, and other advantages. They can be used in important manufacturing applications in industries like nuclear and power, petrochemical, metallurgy, shipbuilding, and others.

The suitable materials for this 3D printer will include carbon steel, low-alloy steel, stainless steel and others. Low-alloy steel products are used primarily for nuclear and power applications, including nuclear pressure vessels; while carbon steel is mainly used for parts in generating thermal and hydropower.

This 3D printer makes objects with the following specfications:
Diameter : φ2100mm ~ φ6000mm
Thickness : ≤ 800mm
Length : ≤ 10000mm
Maximum weight : ≤ 300 tons

Advances in 3D printing will help China to improve techniques in metal mold making and will allow enterprises to be more competitive and stronger in the international market.

China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance projections indicate that by 2016, China's 3D printer market will expand to 10 billion RMB (1.65 billion USD), that's 10 times the market size of 2012. If this projection is correct, then China may surpass the U.S. as the world's largest market.

But in the short run, 3D printing technology can not completely replace traditional processing and manufacturing. 3D laser printing technology is more suitable for high-performance, expensive parts while other methods are better for mass-produced parts.



Posted in 3D Printers


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Andrea Marcus wrote at 9/17/2014 9:35:52 AM:

Somebody should take one of these 3D printers out to plastic island, and clean it up, while producing non-tree-based building materials. How hard would it be to convert the ocean's island of plastic garbage into low-grade 3D printer material? Couldn't this technology revolutionize recycling, if that was one of the priorities of its development?

jameswharmon wrote at 7/15/2014 8:35:17 PM:

Very cool stuff. Glad cnc mills and lathes and lathes are necessary for a while longer. Foundries might be slightly concerned.

jameswharmon wrote at 7/15/2014 8:28:34 PM:

Very cool stuff. Glad cnc mills and lathes and lathes are necessary for a while longer. Foundries might be slightly concerned.

Nicholas Kim Coppola wrote at 5/21/2014 2:21:55 PM:

The son of comparative literature professor August Coppola (a brother of director Francis Ford Coppola) and dancer/choreographer Joy Vogelsang, Cage changed his name early in his career to make his own reputation, succeeding brilliantly with a host of classic, quirky roles by the late 1980s. Initially studying theatre at Beverly Hills High (though he dropped out at 17), he secured a bit part in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) -- most of which was cut, dashing his hopes and leading to a job selling popcorn at the Fairfax Theater, thinking that would be the only route to a movie career. But a job reading lines with auditionees for uncle Francis' Rumble Fish (1983) landed him a role in that film, followed by the punk-rocker in Valley Girl (1983), which was released first and truly launched his career. His one-time passion for method acting reached a personal limit when he smashed a street-vendor's remote-control car to achieve the sense of rage needed for his gangster character in The Cotton Club (1984). In his early 20s, he dated Jenny Wright for two years and later linked to Uma Thurman. After a relationship of several years with Christina Fulton, a model, they split amicably and share custody of a son, Weston Cage (b.1992).

Wing Wong wrote at 2/14/2014 1:58:53 AM:

Looking at the photos, I thought the part was CNC milled and was like, what's the big deal? Then, thanks to the comments, I see what you mean: 2 part process. Assuming that the milling system is aligned properly with the 3d printed part, then yeah, use the 3d printing portion to create the sparse, but rough surfaced, structures. Then follow through with automated CNC milling. That's pretty powerful. The bit about the titanium spar reducing the weight down by 90% is wild. Considering all of the DIY/small business attempts to make metal 3d printers in the states, the concept of creating an atmosphere where the metals wouldn't react, is something that hasn't been talked about yet. Interesting.

Anja wrote at 2/9/2014 10:53:29 PM:

@Karl.D: The machine from Nanfeng Ventilator Co uses high-intensity electric current to melt the raw materials. It then creates high density and high performance components by synchronizing metallurgy of high-temperature micro-areas and unidirectional solidification (this part is bit difficult for me). The details should be announced this month, if they stick to the original schedule. The target market is companies that make nuclear and power equipment, petrochemical equipment, metallurgical Equipment and ships' equipment.

Karl.D wrote at 2/9/2014 9:31:08 PM:

I'm a bit disappointing with the shallowness of the article. There is no mention of the Additive Manufacturing processes e.g. SLM, LENS. Re: Alidan & jd90 The jet fighter and wing spar parts are made from Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) with a central laser beam consolidating the two metal powder streams. Alternatively a metal wire can be used akin to a MIG welder. As a rough guess the machine being made by Nanfeng Ventilator Co is a SLM. Is there any more info on it?

alidan wrote at 2/9/2014 10:34:39 AM:

@ jd90 from my understanding, its either done with a laser melting the power, or its done with a binding agent that is later fired in a kiln to get the metal to bint to itself.

Tuxguy wrote at 2/8/2014 4:27:36 PM:

True the part looks milled, but it was printed because titanium cost a arm and leg but the scrap from milling people don't want to buy. So what most people do is print a part within 0.5 and mill it afterwards to give smooth finish.

jd90 wrote at 2/8/2014 4:44:05 AM:

I don't think metal is printed with fused deposition, where a bead of hot material is deposited, which is what RepRaps, Ultimakers & Makerbots do. Metals are generally printed with selective laser sintering (SLS), and the article states several times that lasers were used, suggesting SLS.

Nick Lancaster wrote at 2/7/2014 11:19:14 PM:

The part was 3d printed then finish machined on a normal milling machine. Standard practice of fused disposition 3d metal printing. 3d printing is just not capable of metal printing finish parts with truely precision surfaces.

T wrote at 2/7/2014 7:57:01 PM:

Sorry to be a downer BUT The first image of a "A large 3D printed titanium part for J-20 or J-31 stealth fighter" I have seen before and it is not 3D printed. The unfinished side clearly look like solid, unprinted metal and all of the inside details are obviously CNC milled. Look at the super evident tool path markings. Don't get me wrong metal printing is really evolving and fast but direct metal printing is just not to the level of what you seen in that image for that scale. But if in fact it is to that level than that image is just a fony. Citing myself, a manufacturing engineer.

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