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Studies Seek to Industrialize Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace

Oerlikon is partnering with Boeing and Lufthansa Technik to research standardization and qualification of additive manufacturing processes.

Oerlikon is pairing up with major aerospace players to make additive manufacturing (AM) a more feasible option for industrialization. The Swiss technology and engineering group has signed agreements this year with Lufthansa Technik (LHT) and Boeing to collaborate on research into ways AM for aerospace can be more easily standardized and qualified. 

The most recent of these agreements is the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with LHT, which aims to establish “robust and repeatable processes for AM in the aircraft MRO industry.” According to a spokesperson for Oerlikon, the collaboration’s research seeks to understand what process variability exists when the same component geometries are built on the same machine using the same powder batch, heat treatment, testing conditions and build parameters in different global locations. Oerlikon and LHT will print these components using an Oerlikon-produced IN718 powder alloy on identical printers at LHT Hamburg and Oerlikon’s locations in Charlotte, North Carolina and Barleben, Germany.

Once the variables are identified, the study’s objective is to understand how they can be controlled to achieve repeatable processes—which will ensure that all parts meet quality requirements and reduce the cost of recurring quality validation, according to Oerlikon. The company says this repeatability could also provide potential savings in procurement, warehousing and supply chain management. For now, the partnership is set for a one-year period, but the companies say the scope and timeframe is likely to increase.

Meeting the challenges of qualifying AM materials and processes for aerospace is also at the heart of Oerlikon’s collaboration agreement with Boeing. The five-year agreement, which was signed in February, seeks to develop standard materials and processes for metal-based AM. The collaboration’s research will initially focus on industrializing titanium powder bed fusion AM. The companies say that in addition to meeting qualification challenges, it will enable them to “provide a route for the adoption of AM with a qualified supply chain that achieves quality and cost targets.”

Boeing’s chief technologist, Leo Christodoulou, says the collaboration is “an important step toward fully unlocking the value of powder bed titanium AM for the aerospace industry.” He adds: “Boeing and Oerlikon will work together to standardize AM operations from powder management to finished product and thus enable the development of a wide range of safe, reliable and cost-effective structural titanium aerospace components.”

“Working together with Boeing will define the path in producing airworthy AM components for serial manufacturing,” says Roland Fischer, CEO of Oerlikon Group. “We see collaboration as a key enabler to unlocking the value that additive manufacturing can bring to aircraft platforms.” 

To help drive industrialization of AM, data, evidence and results of the LHT study will be shared with regulatory bodies such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Oerlikon says this will support defining standards for the qualification and approval of aircraft components.

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