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Gaining A Competitive Edge With Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is transforming the way engineers build and design engines, fuselages, landing gear and thousands of other components.

APMEN speaks to Dr -Ing Simon Merkt-Schippers, industry manager additive manufacturing for aerospace and energy, Trumpf, on additive manufacturing is impacting the aerospace industry, as well as other manufacturing sectors.

The aerospace industry was one of the first industries to embrace additive manufacturing (AM). What new AM developments can we expect to see in this area?

AM is in the transition state from rapid prototyping to series production. The industrialisation of machines, respectively their reliability, is increasing, as well as the productivity of the process through multilaser processing. Multilaser machines are able to improve the productivity of the AM process by a factor of more than three in the short term, while at the same time lowering the costs dramatically.

The most successful adapters of AM in aerospace are able to create smart interfaces along the whole process chain and offer quality systems adapted to the characteristics of AM. The integration of AM in existing process chains and certification are not often straightforward, but very important because a majority of costs (up to 70 percent of the finished part) are related to pre- and post-processing and the quality assurance of AM parts.

Machine manufactures like Trumpf have a deep understanding of how to support AM part manufacturers with smart interfaces (for example, zero clamping systems), monitoring solutions or automation components to improve reliability of machines and to decrease the overall costs of AM. Process simulation software and in situ-monitoring solutions will further increase the competitiveness of AM processes compared to conventional manufacturing technologies. Moreover, more materials specifically developed for AM will appear in the market.

All together, we will see a lot of more applications where conventional manufacturing technologies will be replaced by cheaper, lighter and more functional AM parts.

With the number of Asian travellers forecast to significantly increase over the coming years, how will this impact the AM industry for the aerospace sector in the region?

The increase of Asian travellers will have a significant impact on the production numbers of aircrafts. More players, beside the existing ones like Airbus and Boeing, will appear and market competitiveness will further increase. AM opens big opportunities for relatively new companies and startups.

If they consider AM from the first beginning, they gain competitive advantages compared to existing players, who may have a more difficult time considering AM in their operations due to entrenched cost in existing technologies and capital.

Maintenance and repair operations (MRO) will also increase worldwide based on the higher amount of travellers from Asia, which leads to higher market penetration of AM, especially for laser metal deposition. AM means a big chance for companies based in Asia to improve their competitiveness in supplying parts for aerospace.

What is the range of materials available with your AM systems and which sectors are they best suited with?

In regards to aerospace, Trumpf offers a range of materials capable of being used in various application sectors like hydraulics, aero engines and aero structures. The main materials are nickel based superalloys like IN718 / IN625, Titanium alloys like TiAl6V4Eli and different aluminium alloys.

For other industries like medical, dental, tooling and automotive, we also offer suitable materials depending on applications. We have our own process and parameter development team that offers high quality powders to our customers.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in additive manufacturing technologies?

The biggest challenges from my point of view in AM are still the relative high costs of implementation of AM and the integration of AM in robust process chains. You also need to find the right skilled personnel, such as design and application engineers, to leverage the potential of AM. Machine robustness, digitalisation components and the degree of automation degree of AM machines are key to produce parts for Aerospace.

A hot topic in regards to aerospace is certification of AM processes. Certification is still quite complicated due to a lack of standards and prejudices against AM, which are mostly outdated. Convincing internal stakeholders like quality assurance, material and purchase departments can be challenging and time-consuming, but is key in finding real business cases for AM in series production.

Manufacturers want to minimise milling post-processing of parts. How can they achieve this?

AM should not be seen as a single production process. To produce high-precision components, milling post-processing of functional surfaces is mandatory. Nevertheless, it helps to know the requirements of the application in detail to consider milling post-processing of parts upfront in the design process.

The placement and build-up direction of parts in the build chamber directly influence the quality of parts and define the efforts of milling post-processing. Be smart and choose the right orientation to reduce the amount of post treatments. We also offer specific application services and our application experts can help to get the maximum out of your part.

I have seen super fancy parts with outstanding functions, which were useless, because the designer forgot to think about milling post-processing. As a consequence, no mounting of the part for milling was possible or milled surfaces were not accessible. You than have to start from zero! Keyword: design for additive manufacturing.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

I want to encourage all OEMs, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to consider AM when designing and manufacturing aircrafts, aircraft systems and components. AM has outstanding capabilities to manufacture functional parts, which were not possible before.

Do not let prejudices against and the initial implementation efforts of AM scare you from innovating in this technology. It helps to speak to experts, to involve all internal stakeholders from the very beginning and, last but not least, to convince your top level management with a demonstration part, for example.

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