May 5, 2016 | By Alec

Remember the GE Aircraft Engine Bracket design challenge? Way back in 2013, GE encouraged designers everywhere to explore part optimization possibilities by designing a 3D printable engine bracket that weighs significantly less than existing brackets. That competition led to some very interesting designs that really questioned manufacturing constraints in the aviation industry. 3D Systems has now brought one remarkable entry to life in collaboration with software company Frustum, and have 3D printed a metal engine bracket that is 70 percent lighter than existing brackets while meeting each and every functional requirement.

With this 3D printed part, 3D Systems attacks core principles at the heart of aviation production. Though 3D printing is slowly creeping into that sector, conventional manufacturing techniques are still widely used and often result in a trade-off between functionality, weight, production times and performance. And especially weight is of crucial importance. Weight costs fuel, and all attempts to decrease costs and conserve energy ultimately come down to shaving extra pounds off all parts on a plane. Just eliminating one pound in weight from a Boeing 737 (which weighs 65 metric tons), can save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. More effective part designs could, according to one GE estimate, save upwards of $10 million throughout the industry.

As 3D Systems have shown with their latest project, their Direct Metal Printing (DMP) technology can provide a solution – especially when combined with topology optimization software. “[This software] is now capable of generating the most efficient designs for one-step manufacturing on the latest generation of DMP systems. Basically, what you model is what you manufacture,” they say. Together with software company Frustum and 3D Systems’ on-demand Quickparts service, they have 3D printed an engine bracket that meets all of GE’s functional requirements and supports the weight of the cowling during operation, but is 70 percent lighter than existing brackets.

As 3D Systems reveals, Frustum’s software for topology optimization enabled them to tackle critical issues surrounding weight and strength. It determined the most efficient material layout from existing CAD files, to ensure all functional requirements were met with as little material as possible. Stress concentrations were particularly reduced through smooth and blended surfaces. “Based on an existing conventional part design, our software automatically produces optimized geometry for Additive Manufacturing, without needing to do any remodeling,” Frustum CEO Jesse Blankenship explained.

But realizing a part is something completely different than designing one. But according to 3D Systems, the complexity of the final design did not influence the performance of their Direct Metal 3D printing technology. “Direct Metal Printing is much more complex than plastics printing,” says Jonathan Cornelus, business development manager for 3D Systems Quickparts. “We help our customers to develop parts suitable for DMP, with minimized risks for part distortions or build crashes. We print components using optimized parameters based on our long-term experience in printing parts for customers.”

Frustum’s STL file was studied to determine the best material specifications, tolerances and part orientation, before being 3D printed in titanium on the 3D Systems ProX™ DMP 320 system – which has been available since January 2016. “Titanium was chosen for the GE aircraft bracket, based on its superior strength even when material is thinly applied to lower a part’s weight,” they explain. Thanks to the exchangeable manufacturing modules, the part was also 3D printed at very high speeds.

After 3D printing, the part was extensively tested. The ProX DMP 320’s vacuum build chamber ensured that all desired material properties, density and chemical purity were achieved. The part also met all load requirements specified by the GE challenge, and reduced weight by a staggering 70 percent. “This is the kind of project that should be a real eye-opener for automotive and aerospace companies, where reducing weight while providing the same or improved functionality is the lifeblood of their design, engineering and manufacturing operations,” said Cornelus.

Cornelus further argued that the topology optimization process really adds a whole new dimension to metal 3D printing, and can often consolidate multi-part assemblies into a stronger single part. This will reduce the likelihood of part failure by eliminating fasteners and connectors, he argued. And as industrial-grade parts can be completed in as little as two weeks, this topology/3D printing combination can really have a huge impact on the aviation industry.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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