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Additive Metal Repairs Should Come To Aircraft Parts In 2019

Additive metal production continues to expand at a steady rate but adoption for additive parts repairs remains slow.

“We’ll probably see the first FAA-approved additive repair for aircraft this year,” predicts Scott Killian, business development manager for aerospace at EOS, which makes 3D machines and software. He knows he is riding a wave, pushed so far by additive production technologies.  

So EOS has been busy, developing its 3D software and interfaces to make it easier for both major OEMs and 3D start-ups to transfer design data quickly into EOS machines. “We are seeing a lot of customers coming on line this year and with big plans for the next two years,” Killian notes. EOS expects increases in the next few years in both plastic and metal additive production. Because plastic additive has been used in aerospace for two decades, the sharpest future increases should come as OEMs exploit the design freedom additive metal manufacturing enables.

EOS has recently introduced three new plastic 3D printing machines and its new M 300 series of metal printing machines, specifically designed to support high-productivity manufacturing. The M 300 units let OEMs choose the number of lasers, laser power and focus with up to four precise lasers operating in a 300-by-300 mm square, each laser covering the entire build area. The new equipment is modular, so OEMs can use the M300 as a stand-alone system or integrated with other EOS modules.

Apart from additive repairs, additive production itself is steadily transforming the aviation aftermarket, as it alters companies, technologies, costs, inventories and lead times for part supplies. Hundreds of thousands of plastic parts have already been additively produced, and Killian estimates 3D-printed metal parts are already in the tens of thousands. “We are seeing a lot of structural metal parts, not big parts, 3D printed from titanium and aluminum.” The EOS executive agrees with a recent forecast that additive titanium parts for aerospace will grow 34% annually over the next five years. “Absolutely, it may be even more.” For engines, additive is being applied to high-temperature nickel-alloy parts.

Killian says there has been a lot of talk about using additive for part repairs in last four to five years, but implementation has been slow. EOS now has a customer that is purchasing its machines to do additive repairs in aircraft metal parts. One repair candidate is turbine blade tips. So far, a lack of experience with additive metal repair has hampered both progress and certification on these safety-critical parts, but Killian expects that to change soon.

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