Oct 20, 2017 | By Tess

A joint team from Purdue University’s Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center, Thermwood Corporation, Applied Composite Engineering (ACE), and Techmer PM demonstrated how it produced a composite helicopter part using a mold that was 3D printed out of polysulfone (PSU).

Helicopter part made from the 3D printed PSU mold

According to the parties involved in the project, this may have been the first time ever that PSU—a carbon fiber reinforced polymer—has been successfully 3D printed. The helicopter mold was 3D printed using Thermwood’s Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) system.

Each company and team played a role in the helicopter part’s production: Techmer PM, a manufacturer of high-performance custom compounds, supplied the PSU material; Thermood Corporation supplied its LSAM technology; and ACE, a composites expert with a focus on the aerospace industry, used the 3D printed mold to create the final helicopter part.

Thermwood's LSAM system

To compare the 3D printing method to traditional manufacturing, the part mold (for an oil drip pan for a Chinook Helicopter) was also manufactured using ACE’s standard manufacturing equipment.

The results between the two manufacturing processes are pretty staggering. According to the joint team, the material for the 3D printed mold cost 34 per cent less than the standard manufactured mold and was produced 69 per cent faster in terms of labor hours—the 3D printed mold took only three days to manufacture, while the conventional tool required eight.

3D printing of the PSU mold using LSAM system

The team was able to use PSU for the mold largely thanks to the LSAM’s powerful extrusion system, which could handle the high temperatures and torque levels required for processing PSU.

The LSAM system, developed by machining specialist Thermwood, is a two-step additive manufacturing process which consists of first 3D printing a rough model of the part, and then using a CNC mill to machine the part down to its exact dimensions. The large-scale 3D printer used to manufacture the helicopter part mold had a build volume of 10 x 20 feet.

3D printed PSU mold

The Thermwood blog describes the process of making the helicopter part further: “The part, an oil drip pan for a Chinook Helicopter, was molded in an autoclave at 275oF and 90 PSI. The printed mold held vacuum without the need for special coatings other than normal mold prep and release.”

With a Tg (glass transition temperature) of 372oF the participants believe that this particular PSU formulation may be able to process parts at up to 350oF which is adequate for about 95 per cent of composite parts processed today. Additional tests will be performed to determine the suitability and durability of this material at this temperature.”

The 3D printed PSU mold was recently on display at the AM2017 Additive Manufacturing Conference held in Knoxville, Tennessee. The collaborative team says it next plans to investigate the use of Polyethersulfone (PES) with 3D printing.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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