A new 3D printing system could help steer the aviation applications of additively manufactured parts in a new direction.
“When we look at the aftermarket and the MRO space, the benefit isn’t necessarily in printing different parts or lighter-weight parts, but it’s in changing the economics of producing those parts. It’s the ability to stock digitally, not carry inventory of dozens of different aircraft configurations for years,” says Scott Sevcik, Stratasys vice president for manufacturing solutions. He adds that the ability to produce larger, repeatable parts on-demand could provide immense flexibility for MRO providers.
The company's new H2000 is unique in that it lays up printing material horizontally rather than in the traditional vertical method. Not constrained by a build envelope like traditional 3D printing, parts created on the H2000 can ostensibly be as long as a customer desires.
Stratasys developed the system’s requirements with input from OEMs including Boeing and Ford Motor Co. Both companies are exploring applications for the H2000 system, including parts such as aircraft panels and interior closet doors, which Stratasys displayed at a VIP event for potential buyers at its headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
While Sevcik says most of the 3D-printed parts that have gone into aircraft until now have been limited to noncritical pieces within the cabin like seat and wiring components, industry innovations are expanding possible uses.
“With the material and repeatability advancements that we’re seeing with the technology today, we’re starting to move into some more critical components. We’re moving toward secondary structures and some of the composite materials that have been developed. So today 3D printed parts are in interiors, but tomorrow they can go outside of the cabin and really into some very highly critical areas within the vehicle,” says Sevcik.
Making 3D Mass Production a Reality
Designed from the ground up as a manufacturing platform rather than as a prototype platform with manufacturing capabilities, Stratasys wants companies to see 3D printing with the H2000 as a real mass production option. Sevcik points to an interest he is seeing in using 3D printing to reshape the supply chain, adding that Stratasys is “looking toward innovative companies that can leverage 3D printing to create parts they’ve never seen before.”
Consequently, Stratasys recently announced agreements with Boom Supersonic and Eviation Aircraft to produce 3D printed parts for the development of supersonic and all-electric commercial aircraft respectively. Eviation Aircraft CEO Omer Bar-Yohay credits Stratasys with saving the company several hundred thousands of dollars and an estimated six months of workforce hours thanks to the 3D printing technology aiding with prototyping test parts and tooling.
“The ability to produce lightweight parts in complex geometries will also enable us to explore the possibility of 3D printing parts for the final aircraft,” he says.
Stratasys was recently chosen by Airbus to produce 3D-printed polymer parts for its A350 XWB aircraft, including brackets and parts used for system installation. While there currently are not any parts printed using the H2000 system in the air, Stratasys is aiming to reach that point.
Raising the Bar
To stand up to exposure to flame, fuel, hydraulic fluid and other chemicals, the composite material of choice is ULTEM 9085 resin—a high-temperature FDM thermoplastic with a high strength-to-weight ratio. ULTEM 9085 beads are extruded from a screw, for which Stratasys has an exclusive license, that can be changed on the fly in about 30 sec.
Such time savings are one of the key features of the new system, with a print time 10 times faster than the company’s previous 3D printers. According to Jim Orrock, vice president and product leader, the H2000 system can provide a reduction of about 50% in cost and 75% in lead time.
Hitting the Market
Stratasys hopes the time- and cost-saving benefits of the H2000 will entice potential buyers. Orrock says the company could produce up to 10-15 H2000 systems in the next couple of years, if there is demand. Currently, Stratasys has one H2000 system completed, which will be ready to ship after November, once final reliability testing and part quality updates are completed. The rest of the systems will be built-to-order; Stratasys can build two per quarter, with a lead time of 6-9 months. Orrock says there will be plenty of customization options for buyers and is open to customers developing their own printing materials, which will be examined on a case-by-case basis.
The H2000 requires 33 X 17 ft. of facility space, with an extra 100 ft. needed for auxiliary equipment. Installation takes approximately two weeks. Full system specifications will be available Aug. 31.