Jan 15, 2015 | By Simon

Although 3D printing has been an invaluable tool for testing prototypes for aerospace design, it hasn’t always been able to fabricate parts that are safe enough to be placed directly into aerospace vehicles - at least at a reasonable cost.

Due to the lower costs of printing high-strength 3D printed parts however, more helicopter and helicopter part manufacturers have been quickly moving from traditional methods of production over to the quicker, cheaper and easier method of producing parts using additive manufacturing methods.  

Just last month, Bell Helicopters, a helicopter that has sold more than 35,000 helicopters since 1941, announced that they were ceasing production on some of their traditionally manufactured parts and switching their manufacturing over to EOS Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) methods, as 3Ders reported.  Among other factors that Bell had to look at when considering the 3D printed parts were heat distribution, powder degradation, dimensional accuracy, repeatability, component quality and performance and the economics of manufacturing the parts, among others.   

This week, it was announced that helicopter engine manufacturer Turbomeca has also started production of helicopter components using 3D printing methods at their manufacturing facility in Bordes, France.  

Similar to Bell Helicopters, Turbomeca is using laser sintering to produce their parts... however they have chosen to choose a Selective Laser Melting (SLM) method of 3D printing rather than Bell’s decision to go with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).  While both methods are similar and rely on a laser to create a single part, SLS only heats the material up to a point where it can fuse together whereas SLM actually melts the material into the final object:  

Considering that Turbomeca is creating engine components, it would make sense that they have chosen to use Selective Laser Melting to ensure that all of their nickel-based alloy powder 3D parts are as rigid as possible.

So far the company has been using their Selective Laser Melting 3D printers to produce fuel-injector nozzles for their Arrano test and production engines, as well as their Ardiden 3 combustor swirlers.  With only a few parts having been produced, the Bordes facility is already being billed as a first-of-its-kind in the aerospace industry with its expansive capabilities as an additive manufacturing plant.  

“Using additive manufacturing technique, the Arrano fuel-injector nozzle is made from a single piece of material and exhibits advanced injection and cooling functions,” says Turbomeca.

The Bordes facility is a part of Turbomeca’s long-term plan to improve the company’s manufacturing capabilities - particularly by incorporating more additive manufacturing processes into their supply chain.  With the success of using SLM additive manufactuing techniques thus far, Turbomeca plans to keep adding more SLM equipment to their Bordes facility over the next few years.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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