May 18, 2016 | By Alec

It seems like the US Navy has become a 3D printing believer. After extensive 3D printing experiments on land and at sea, the Navy is already testing 3D printed components in the field. Just two months ago, they launched Trident II D5 Ballistic Missile with a 3D printed component, while the Navy has just revealed plans for a test flight with a Boeing V-22 Osprey with crucial 3D printed parts. The test has been organized by the Naval Air Systems Command (NavAir), and will take place in June.

This test has come as a surprise to NavAir themselves as well. According to Elizabeth McMichael, leader of the NavAir AM and Digital Thread Integrated Product Team (IPT), NavAir wanted to take a flight-critical 3D printed part into the air three years after development started. As she revealed, this 3D printed titanium part for the Boeing V-22 Osprey was completed in about half of that time.

The announcement was made at the Navy’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition earlier this week, during which McMichael also gave more insights into the Navy’s 3D printing activities and ‘roadmap’ for the future. “When we stood up AM and Digital Thread IPT at NavAir, we wanted to align a lot of efforts,” McMichael said. “A lot of people were using additive manufacturing in different pockets — but what we were doing was often repeating things and sometimes not focusing on some of the big issues associated with AM and being able to use it for things like flight-critical parts.” As its abilities became apparent, two main NavAir goals were singled out: making parts and certifying them for use.

The latter goal is especially remarkable. Though the technology has been on the navy’s radar for two decades, certification and qualification have remained constant issues. An airplane’s engine nacelle and link attachment can be 3D printed in as little three days, McMichael said, but it can take three months to certify them. “That’s not right,” she said during the announcement. “If I were queen for a day, I would make the certification process weeks or days.” The NavAir group, which is planning to start working with stainless steel powders later this month, is therefore mostly focused on developing industry standards for 3D printed parts.

Hopefully, these NavAir efforts will provide insights that the entire military-industrial complex can use to set up a digital infrastructure to manage all 3D printing data. “A disruptive technology like this requires a disruptive process to manage it and a disruptive infrastructure because it doesn’t exist right now in NAVAIR, an infrastructure that is going to enable you to have all the data, secured, that is a single authoritative source that lets you make these parts,” McMichael said. “That’s what we’re trying to develop and demonstrate right now, in parallel with the additive manufacturing development.”

But the last few years have also been insightful. “[One of the key lessons learnt] is that this technology lets you go a lot faster than we thought,” McMichael said. Dr. Bill Frazier, chief scientist of Air Vehicle Engineering agreed, and noted that their 3D printed aircraft parts showed no signs of fatigue and crack propagation whatsoever. He also shared a glimpse of their activities, explaining that their manufacturing efforts includes parts demonstration, statistically substantiated data development and taking “all that knowledge and lessons learned and folding that into computational models that will help us define a quality processing envelope so that we can replicate this across machines and processes so you can assure yourself a product of quality,” he said. “Don’t want to waste time and money doing things that can’t be replicated.”

Both see the test flight with the V-22 Osprey aircraft as an excellent first result. Specifically, several parts, links and fittings will be tested, made from titanium-aluminum alloy Ti-6Al-4V. “We don’t think there is a lot of risk to it, McMichael said of the test, adding that they have completely locked down the manufacturing process. “This is not something we can do and just play around with nice little knobs and dials that you can adjust. Ultimately, I want to be able to print these parts wherever we need them, whenever we need them.”

While significant work – especially in terms of regulations and procedures – is still necessary, this test flight will enable NavAir to see how far they’ve come already. The data they can gather from the test will hopefully also serve to showcase a need for the government to work with industry partners on next-gen aircraft design, McMichael argued. “It's as much an art right now as anything else,” she said.

But those efforts can probably count on the new R&D climate Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been fostering within the defense sector. Just last Tuesday, he revealed plans to spend $72 billion in R&D in fiscal year 2017, up from $66 billion in 2014. “We need to continue to invest in innovation and think outside our five-sided box,” the secretary said. This massive investment is more than double what Apple, Intel and Google parent Alphabet combined spent on R&D in 2014. Military 3D printing applications, it seems, are about to receive a huge boost.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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John Galt Steel wrote at 5/25/2016 6:47:54 PM:

YES Technology is faster than Certification, that is why Traceability from our ISO PED certified Mills with ASTM DIN EN specifications to the latest editions which contain Chemical analysis with percent by mass and Sieve analysis are extremely important for our 316L metal powder we distribute to our customers. We work hard to keep up with the every day changing additive manufacturing metal powder certification requirements so that you can go back to inventing in this exciting technology!

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