Giant OEMs may be able to develop 3D-printed parts in-house, but airlines and MROs will likely have to partner with 3D specialists to develop replacement parts in the aftermarket. Two major airline MROs, Etihad Airways Engineering and Lufthansa Technik, have chosen to partner with Germany’s EOS.
With Etihad, EOS has a strategic partnership focusing on a long-term effort to push additive manufacturing in commercial aviation. “We’ve also collaborated on projects with other airlines to demonstrate the flexibility that additive manufacturing provides for design, and build parts that were previously too complex or impossible to make with traditional methods,” notes aerospace business development manager Scott Killian. He says EOS has a strong relationship with LHT. “We support LHT’s efforts to radically change repair and maintenance strategies based on additive manufacturing.”
Specific work for these private partners can be proprietary. But a general picture of where EOS is headed is revealed in its public-sector projects. The company is working with the University of Dayton Research Institute to help the U.S. Air Force select the parts for which additive is a viable solution, notes Brian Stitt, leader of additive manufacturing and repair at the University. “We have identified hardware ranging from interior trim panels, to brackets and A-frames, to bell-cranks and valve bodies, in both polymers and metals,” Stitt says. Most of these parts are low-criticality components, allowing EOS, the University and the Air Force to continue building a foundation for additive. But EOS and the University will next look for more critical parts that have problems with availability, diminishing supply sources, long lead times or costs.
For both private and public partners, EOS is an additive manufacturing enabler. It provides the systems, materials, software and consultation for MROs that want to make parts and components. The company provides end-to-end support, starting with part selection and continuing to certification and production.
EOS uses a powder-bed additive manufacturing process in which lasers create continuous layers of material, allowing for complex designs impossible with conventional production. This direct metal laser sintering process has been proven to meet the quality and performance standards of aerospace industry. Indeed, a 3D-printed flight control valve made with an EOS M 290 became the first 3D-printed metal part to fly on a commercial aircraft, Airbus’s A380. The valve was 35% lighter and used less titanium than a conventionally produced valve.
Now EOS has launched the M 300-4, ten times more productive than the M 290. It will reduce cost per part and extend uninterrupted production time. The M300-4 offers additional capabilities such as multiple lasers with different powers, full-field overlap and multiple spot sizes. Killian says these features will enable the new machine to work with high-carbon steel and new materials suited for molding.
Another recent innovation is EOS’s LaserProFusion polymer 3D printing. This technology, which will take a few years to integrate into machines, uses up to one million lasers. Killian says it will be highly productive in 3D printing of polymers for aerospace and other industries.