UK-based Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group has begun using advanced 3D printing for more efficient, cost-effective tooling and parts manufacturing within its modifications and maintenance work. According to the company, its implementation of 3D printing has provided significant advantages compared to traditional methods within aerospace manufacturing, modifications and maintenance.
“FDM (fused deposition modeling) technology has altered the way we work, and the aerospace-grade 3D printers and materials enable us to meet our increasingly aggressive deadlines and complex manufacturing requirements,” says Chris Botting, materials, processes and additive manufacturing engineer for the company.
After acquiring a Stratasys Fortus 450mc FDM printer in 2017 and achieving certification for aerospace parts in 2018, Marshall began 3D printing flight-ready parts, complex tooling applications and ground-running equipment. The company says being able to 3D print flight-approved parts such as ductwork and switches has enabled it to produce lighter parts more cheaply and quickly.
According to Botting, the ability to create accurate, repeatable and reliable 3D-printed parts using aerospace-approved materials has helped the company meet industry performance requirements—such as flame, smoke and toxicity standards for parts used within aircraft interiors. Botting says this is why Marshall is using ULTEM 9085 resin for 3D-printed components.
3D printed materials have also helped the company transition away from heavier and costlier metal materials. Marshall is using 3D-printed thermoplastic tools to replace heavy metal tools, which it says has reduced both the burden on the operator and cost and lead times on urgent operational tasks. According to the company, its team regularly produces customized, low-volume production tools within 24 hours of an engineer’s request. Complex tooling applications where Marshall is using 3D printing include drill jigs, masking templates, bonded fixtures and composite mold tooling.
One recent success story Botting points to is the creation of a ducting adapter prototype used to cool aircraft avionics. He says 3D printing this part helped the company transition from costly aluminum processes and reduce the part’s overall weight by 63%.
“In the future, there is no doubt that 3D printing will continue to have a significant impact in the way we design and manufacture in our business,” says Botting.
The company has four 3D printers in total at its Cambridge headquarters, although it did not elaborate on whether there are future plans to acquire more.