Jan 25, 2018 | By Benedict

Renaissance Services, an Ohio-based enterprise systems integrator for aerospace and defense companies, has received a $2.9M Air Force contract to support production of gearboxes and housings for out-of-production aircraft and engines using 3D printed ceramic molds.

Like other branches of the US Armed Forces, the Air Force maintains a number of vehicles and engines that are no longer in production but which can still serve a purpose. Doing so, however, can be tricky: since many of these aircraft and their engines are old, it’s not always easy to find or make spare parts when something goes wrong with them.

Fortunately, technologies like additive manufacturing are making it easier for the Air Force to acquire spare and replacement parts for legacy vehicles. To this end, the defense branch is about to get a big helping hand from Ohio’s Renaissance Services, to whom it has just awarded a $2.9 million contract to support production of gearboxes and housings for out-of-production aircraft and engines.

To satisfy the demands of this contract, which has been awarded by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Renaissance Services will use 3D printing to fabricate ceramic tooling for certain parts, ultimately producing sophisticated aerospace castings with significantly reduced time and cost.

The 3D printing of these molds will take place under the banner of the “RECHARGE” program (Rapid Engineered Castings: Housing for Aircraft & Reliable Gearboxes for Engines), which is being funded by the Air Force Rapid Innovation Fund. According to those in the know, it’s a highly necessary venture.

“The Air Force has a long list of critical parts for aircraft and engines that have not been produced for years,” explained Robert Morris, Renaissance co-founder and RECHARGE Program Manager. “It’s not uncommon for production sources to be unknown, tooling to be nonexistent, and essential technical data to be very limited.”

Without the help of 3D printing, fabricating a single critical part like this can cost more than $50,000, with lead times stretching beyond the year mark. By 3D printing ceramic molds, however, Renaissance can work with its foundry to produce a casting, which can be used to significantly reduce that lead time: the 3D printed mold itself can be made in a week or less.

Once these 3D printed molds have been produced at Renaissance’s fully integrated facility in Fairborn, they are shipped to a foundry for castings production. Renaissance and the Precision Castparts (PCC) Structurals foundry in Tilton, New Hampshire were recently able to produce finished castings for an Air Force engine gearbox in less than 30 days, representing a lead time improvement of 90 per cent or more.

Other foundries will also be involved with the RECHARGE project, each bringing its own area of expertise. All will have the ability to work with a wide range of materials, such as aluminum, magnesium, and nickel-based alloys.

The parts in question that Renaissance will be producing for the Air Force as part of this new contract include gearboxes and housings that meet the requirements for use on Air Force systems.

The project will enable the Air Force to receive these parts quickly and affordably. “It’s going to be an interesting couple of years as we prove that legacy systems don’t have to stand at the back of the line to have their critical needs met,” Morris said.

Last year, Air Force researchers suggested that the next “Mother of All Bombs” could be 3D printed.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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