3D Printing

FDM 3D printers to produce aircraft parts for OEMs

31st March 2021
Alex Lynn

UK-based Senior Aerospace BWT has enhanced its capability in additive manufacturing by installing Stratasys FDM 3D printers to spearhead the design, production and deployment of 3D-printed interior aircraft parts for its customers.

Located at the company’s Macclesfield, Cheshire site, Senior Aerospace BWT is equipped with two industrial-grade Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printers, and has undertaken a rigorous testing and qualification program of Stratasys’ aerospace-grade ULTEMTM 9085 resinon behalf of its key customers.

Having completed and approved the necessary qualification reports, Senior Aerospace BWT is now fully capable of 3D printing interior aircraft components to meet the needs of aircraft manufacturers. The company has a global customer base covering regional, military, private jet and rotorcraft markets – with 3D-printed components for use in low pressure air ducting systems and air handling in aircraft interiors.

Darren Butterworth, CEO, Senior Aerospace BWT, commented: “Senior Aerospace BWT is now an industry leader in driving the increased adoption of thermoplastic 3D-printed parts for aircraft, enabling our customers to benefit from the significant benefits that this technology delivers. After two years of intensive R&D work, we have qualified the associated products and processes, which enable us to produce flight-ready parts quickly and cost-effectively for our customers. We now have the capability of deploying a robust, accurate, repeatable and traceable process – which is what the industry demands.”

Senior Aerospace BWT is reportedly seeing significant savings in terms of component weight, cost and lead-time when using Stratasys FDM-based additive manufacturing in place of traditionally sourced aluminum. For certain parts, savings are as much as 75% – particularly for small order quantities.

“In many cases, minimum order quantities for off-the-shelf aluminum parts make traditional manufacturing simply unviable when we may only need a handful for one aircraft,” explained Butterworth. “If you add to that the small, complex geometries of some parts, it just does not warrant the cost and time to CNC machine them in aluminum.”

Key to the company’s success with additive manufacturing has been Stratasys’ aerospace-grade materials, which helped simplify the qualification and material characterisation process.

Senior Aerospace BWT first began investigating the commercial viability of Stratasys FDM 3D printing for interior aircraft parts over four years ago via a technical partnership with a service bureau. Through the collaboration, Senior Aerospace BWT delivered its first duct incorporating a 3D printed part for flight use on regional passenger jets in 2018. Since then, the company has supplied its customers with hundreds of lightweight, flight-ready interior aircraft parts using FDM, often incorporating highly complex geometries. The company’s success with FDM laid the foundation for the investment in its own in-house capability via Stratasys’ local partner, Tri-Tech 3D.

Looking ahead, Senior Aerospace BWT plans to extend its additive manufacturing services offering into other industries beyond aerospace, such as automotive and defense. The company expects to boost capacity with the installation of additional Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printers, a key part of its strategic objective to invest in fluid conveyance product development and manufacturing processes to help facilitate growth through innovation and continually enhance returns on investment.

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