The pressure is on aerospace companies to reduce the weight of their planes while ensuring safety and quality. Manufacturers are increasingly turning to new materials and technologies to lighten the load, including rapidly evolving 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions.
3D printing was initially seen as a way for aerospace, automotive and other manufacturers to create rapid prototypes or molds. Now, new additive manufacturing techniques and materials are making it possible to create lightweight end-use parts. While many of these parts are for interior areas of planes that are not subject to extreme stresses, printed parts are working their way into vehicle bodies, as well as being incorporated into jet and rocket engines.
Designing lighter-weight airplane parts is one thing; manufacturing them presents several challenges and 3D printing is not the only solution. When one major aerospace original equipment manufacturer (OEM) redesigned the braces used to support the passenger cabin floor on its planes, they did so by designing in pockets and curves, and specifying that the parts be built in titanium.
The company selected Dyna-Empire, a Long Island-based aerospace company, to manufacture the parts, but the redesign presented several challenges. The curves and surfaces on the titanium part would require complex computer numerically controlled (CNC) programming, for example. Additionally, titanium milling tools are expensive, and the metal can quickly wear them down. Complicating the project, there were 25 different configurations of the brace for different parts of the plane.
“It was taking us hours to make one piece, and we were spending hundreds of dollars in tools per piece,” says manufacturing engineer Colin Crossley.
Using the CAM functionality in PTC Creo, Crossley and his team were able to program the CNC machines while also utilizing new milling approaches that minimized tool wear.
Using Creo also allowed Crossley to program faster. “Instead of two hours, it would take me 15 minutes,” Crossley says. “That gave me more time to try new things, and improve my cycle times and tool life.”
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Ed-Here’s a quick video that talks about the application of titanium in aerospace and other industries: