May 19, 2015 | By Alec

We’ve already known for a while that 3D printing is readily being incorporated into aerospace and aviation industries, but this usually involves industrial-quality metal 3D printers that are miles away from the desktop 3D printers we all use. But now a team of designers and engineers from the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE, part of the Naval Air Systems Command of the US Navy) have done something very unusual: they have relied on 3D printed ABS parts to fix a broken landing gear mechanism on a P-3 Orion Maritime Surveillance Aircraft.

You might have noticed that something is very strange about that. A P-3 Orion costs approximately $6 million dollars and weighs 100,000 pounds. So why on earth rely on ABS plastic, the same material used to make Legos? Well, as the engineering team from FRCSE explained, they found ABS plastic perfect for the job and the tight schedule they were working with. The P-3 Orion aircraft arrived at their Naval Air Station in Jacksonville in October 2014, having sustained very unusual damage to the front wheel-well truss that supports the nose of the plane.

As Mechanical Engineering Technician and Tool Designer Randall Meeker explained, this was a very unusual situation. ‘Not only was this a unique and complex repair, we were under a time constraint with the runway scheduled to close this summer,’ he said on the FRCSE website. ‘If that bird didn’t leave the air station before June, it would be stuck here for a long time.’

He and his colleagues therefore began looking at all the repair options available to them, and they found that could achieve the best results with a quickly made prototype that will allowed them to get to grips with the design. ‘They sent us the design of the repair fitting so we could develop tooling to install it,’ Santiago Alvarez, who is also a Mechanical Engineering Technician, said. ‘We used additive manufacturing capabilities to print a 3-D prototype of the fitting. When we tested it, we noticed some flaws in the design.’

3D printing parts in ABS thus enabled them to quickly test and improve the parts before installation. ‘It would have taken at least a month-and-a-half for Lockheed Martin to manufacture that fitting before they could ship it to us,’ Meeker added. ‘If we had received the part as originally designed, we would’ve missed our deadline.’ All in all, about $300 worth of ABS plastic was used in the design – far less than a metal component that would need to be sent back for modifications would have cost them.

After this 3D printed time-saving measure, Lockheed Martin (who builds the planes) built a modified part for installation. ‘This is the first time in history we have had to make this repair on a P-3,’ Aerospace Engineer Rosa Cafasso said. ‘We worked on this project for months and it was very tedious. Thanks to everyone’s effort and our 3-D printing capability, were able to come up with the proper fitting to repair it.’ Who says there’s no room for an desktop FDM 3D printer in serious industries? 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Wm wrote at 5/19/2015 10:10:50 PM:

The plural of Lego is Lego.

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