While the RAPID + TCT conference in Fort Worth, Texas ends later today, my time at this amazing event came to a close rather, well rapidly (please forgive me this lame joke). I left the show midday on Wednesday, my head spinning with all of the amazing things I’d seen and wonderful people I’d met.
The first thing I did at RAPID was attend Tuesday’s keynote, sponsored by Arconic, titled “Tomorrow’s Additive Manufacturing: An Aerospace & Defense OEM Perspective.” Debbie Holton, the Vice President of Events and Industry Strategy for SME, walked onto the stage first, which was flanked by large hexagon elements 3D printed by Titan Robotics.
“Here’s the big question – what’s next?
“Manufacturers don’t always have the in-house knowledge or expertise to know if they can or should additively manufacture parts.”
With that, Holton called on Dr. Michael Grieves, a professor from Florida Tech and the university’s Executive Director for the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design, to provide an update on the ITEAM (Independent Technical Evaluation of Additive Manufacturing) initiative that SME launched at RAPID last year.
“You may have heard there’s no ‘I’ in team, but we’re putting the ‘I’ back in team,” Dr. Grieves told the crowd.
The expert system is a virtual repository for AM. The ITEAM consortium is completing an independent technical evaluation of AM – its mission is to create and operate an analysis platform to answer that all-important question when it comes to 3D printing – can I make it, and should I make it?
Users need to be confident when answering this question – if they’re not comfortable with the technology, they won’t use it.
According to Dr. Grieves, SME is in a “unique position to be a trusted third party for users” who are trying to determine if they should invest in 3D printing. ITEAM will be engaging feedback from users’ experience, in order to convince executives to make the investment in this technology.
“Designing new parts that we couldn’t design before that will be lighter, have less parts, and have capabilities that we couldn’t with subtractive capabilities will drive this area much farther,” Dr. Grieves explained.
The ITEAM platform that will enable these evaluations is called RAMP, or RAPID Additive Manufacturing Platform. RAMP is a layered architecture that will help create a central repository for 3D printers and their capabilities.
SME released the ITEAM repository inquiry at RAPID this week. Now, below the button on the ITEAM page that says “Join Consortium,” there is a new button that lets you try the beta release of the new tool. All you need to do is click, enter your criteria, and SME will send you back a list of 3D printers that meet your specific qualifications.
Next to take the RAPID stage were Shawn Sullivan and Lynn Karabin, technologists from Arconic who were excited to share the company’s new proprietary aluminum alloys for 3D printing.
“3D printing is on the rise and our customers want the technology,” said Sullivan.
In 2016, the company split from Alcoa into a separate entity and opened a $60 million 3D printing metal powder production facility in Pittsburgh. Arconic knows that 3D printing is still very “complex,” but definitely sees “great potential” for aluminum materials as its customers are looking for “higher performance.”
“When we think about materials largely today the materials haven’t been developed for 3D printing,” explained Sullivan.
“Today we are reinventing the aluminum industry for additive manufacturing.”
Now, Arconic is bringing enhanced properties to its customers for the first time with its new thermally stable aluminum alloy offerings for AM: Arconic AI-ET255 and Arconic AI-ET389. The company developed its own 3D printable version of 6061, and these new materials balance printability, performance, and cost, so that Arconic customers can, according to Karabin, “choose the alloy that best meets their needs.”
Arconic’s new aluminum alloys have 85% higher strength at room temperature than aluminum silicone magnesium, and they can be 3D printed at 30% faster speeds as well. With twice the strength of conventional high temperature aluminum alloys, Arconic’s new AI-ET255 and AI-ET389 compositions were designed to make conventional alloys that are typically difficult to 3D print actually work in the AM industry.
Working with EOS through its customer pilot program, which the new proprietary aluminum alloys are a part of, Arconic also developed new print recipes for the materials. Karabin also said that the company has worked with Lockheed Martin to develop 3D printed metal parts for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which brings us to the introduction of that morning’s keynote speaker.
Michael D. Packer, a member of the SME Board of Directors, is the Director of Manufacturing, Advanced Production Programs for Skunk Works, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. Lockheed Martin has employed 3D printing in numerous applications, and with over four decades of experience in operations and production engineering, Packer had a lot to say regarding use of the technology in the aerospace and defense industry.
“Our customer is buying a weapon system,” Packer said regarding the F-35 fighter aircraft, which was built with the help of EBDM (electron beam direct manufacturing) technology.
“Additive manufacturing was a tremendous enabler for bringing this to reality.”
Packer explained that after nearly 10 years of hard work, the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C have completed flight testing and are now qualified for initial operational capability. Roughly 4,000 of the 5,000 tools on the F-35 were 3D printed with the help of partners like Stratasys and MakerBot, which helped reduce overall costs. Over 100 production parts on the Orion were 3D printed as well, and the company has also 3D printed “hundreds and hundreds of support equipment.”
But Packer believes that over the next five years, nearly 12,000 of these tools will be additively manufactured, mostly with polymers, as these materials have been proven for temporary tooling. For now, the aerospace industry needs to focus on scaling up on EBDM, which offers high deposition rates, so companies can eliminate unnecessary parts when 3D printing larger structures; potential applications for F-35 under consideration include the root rib and several spars.
“Primary structures is the holy grail,” Packer explained.
“There are a lot of challenges and a lot of work ahead of us to go and achieve that.”
But for now, implementation of EBDM is on hold pending several risk reduction activities, such as improving the understanding of the process and leveraging concepts such as generative design.
“Now you have an ability to grow that part based on stiffness, fatigue, thermal properties…all of that can be put into the design rules and you only add what you need, as opposed to machining away all you don’t need.
“Qualification is the challenge ahead of us. ITEAM is going to lead us down the path,” Packer said, bringing things full circle onstage.
Lockheed Martin continues its heavy investment in additive manufacturing, with possible applications like production fixtures, support equipment, and vehicles for ground, aerospace, and underwater being looked into. Packer said that a digital thread is currently “in action on the shop floor,” so techs can download the latest 3D CAD models and project them in order to keep their hands free, and that “non-contact metrology is game-changing.”
However, he also noted that more technology maturation was still required.
Packer said, “If the parts are designed from the onset from an additive leverage standpoint, that will reduce the cycle time of bringing those ideas to reality.”
When asked during the question and answer session at the end what materials he recommended for aerospace designs, Packer said that while there are still conventional advancements being completed in polymers for tools, they are continuing to see growth in metallics, like aluminum, Inconel, and titanium, in secondary and tertiary structures. Another person asked if Lockheed Martin was looking into 4D printing, to which Packer replied, “Good question, good idea. We will now!”
“It continues to accelerate the speed at which we can turn ideas into reality,” Packer said when asked what the future holds for 3D printing at Lockheed Martin.
“It allows us to accelerate supporting the warfighters in the field with either damage from battle or just damage to pieces parts and some weapons systems that we can quickly respond and replace on-site.”
Keep watching 3DPrint.com for more news from the RAPID + TCT show, which ends today in Texas.
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[Images: Sarah Saunders for 3DPrint.com]