July 16, 2014

As the advanced central research and development organization of The Boeing Company, Boeing Research & Technology has been working on advanced manufacturing systems and processes to improve the cycle time, cost, quality and performance of current aerospace products. Boeing has recently released a new video 'High Speed Test Lab' in Boeing's Innovation video series which highlights the company's passion for innovation and its partnership with the Lotus F1 team in Oxfordshire, UK to test the fastest vehicle development environment known to man.

Boeing and Lotus F1 team have been working together in additive manufacturing since 2005. The video exposes that the two companies have been trying to design and manufacture parts with reinforcing fibers using additive manufacturing.

One additive manufacturing method that Boeing has been used is selective laser sintering (SLS). To create an object with desired geometry, a laser seletively fuses powdered material by scanning cross-sections generated from a 3D file on the surface of a powder bed. As each cross section is scanned, the bed of power is lowered by a one layer thickness, and a new layer of powder is applied on top of the scanned layer. This process is repeated until the part is fabricated.

SLS process can be used to build a variety of prototypes and production parts, but aircraft parts or automobile components have stringent and extreme design requirements. These parts are required to be capable of surviving in some speical locations that have high loads and temperatures.

One way that Boeing and Lotus are working on to solve the issue is to include reinforcing fibers into 3D printed parts. In the SLS process, the reinforcing fibers are essentially layed down in the same direction, this means the printed structure is lack of uniformity of mechanical strength and stiffness.

But the challenge is, "how do you get that reinforcement to go in all different directions?"

So Boeing and Lotus team has come up with a new method to add anisotripic properties to the part. They take recycled carbon fiber from Boeing production and add a second sets of particles that are more random than the first average fiber orientation. The average fiber length of the reinforcing fiber is also shorter so that these particles can fill between the original particles. The result is that the mechanical performance is uniform in all different directions in locations on the build.

Watch the video below Brett Lyons, a material and process engineer for Boeing Research & Technology, explains how Boeing researchers are working with the Lotus F1 racing car team to rapidly develop and test high-performance composite parts. If you want to know more about Boeing's patent-pending technology, you can read the patent applications (US 2014/0050921 A1) here.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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