Jun 6, 2017 | By Tess

GKN Aerospace, a British multinational aircraft and engine company, is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to develop an additive manufacturing process for the production of large-scale titanium aerospace parts.

Through the partnership, which comes in the form of a five-year research agreement, GKN Aerospace and ORNL are aiming to develop a laser metal deposition with wire (LMD-w) process that will allow for the efficient production of higher-quality metal parts for aircraft.

The LMD-w process consists of a robot-mounted high-energy laser that melts the surface of a titanium substrate until it forms a melt pool. This titanium melt pool can then be manipulated along a 3D path, the resulting structure of which is solidified in the process, thus forming the 3D structure.

Using the LMD-w 3D printing process, GKN says it can build “large near-net or net-shaped metallic aerospace components” in a more cost-efficient manner. “This LMD-w process has the near-term potential to be used on large monolithic titanium components,” commented Josh Crews, Manager of GKN’s Technology Center for Additive Manufacturing in St. Louis.

Compared to other metal deposition processes, LMD-w reportedly offers a number of benefits, largely due to the adjustable laser-energy and wire-feed rates of the process. According to Crews, “These features enable a user-selectable deposition rate and control of material properties.”

GKN's laser wire deposition process

Furthermore, because the wire feedstock is fully consumed by the melt pool, the process makes better use of its materials compared to powder-based deposition printing. But compared to subtractive manufacturing methods which produce large amounts of scrap material, LMD-w offers even more advantages, as the process effectively eliminates material waste (and thus cuts back on material costs).

One limitation of the AM process is its capability for complexity when compared to powder-based 3D printing processes. This is mostly due to the robotic arm’s mobile limitations. Still, LMD-w could be an effective manufacturing technology for certain large-scale components.

For instance, in its partnership with ORNL, GKN Aerospace will use the 3D printing technology primarily to manufacture components that are currently made using forging or plate material processes. Such parts include wing spars, bulkheads, and frames. 3D printing will allow the company to produce more materially efficient and lightweight parts, which will in turn cut back significantly on production costs.

“In the near future, additive manufacturing aims to extend beyond fabrication of preforms by unlocking new materials and design potential for future aircraft designs,” says GNK Project Manager Chris Allison. “These designs will enable lighter-weight, higher-performance aircraft.”

Based in the United Kingdom, GKN has been an active player in the world of metal 3D printing. In February, GKN Powder Metallurgy announced its plans to 3D print parts for the automotive industry alongside EOS, while even more recently GKN Sinter Metals has been developing a new metal powder for SLS 3D printing.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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