By Bryan Hodgson, Advanced Aerospace Applications

Metro Aerospace has an ingenious microvane product design that delivers SLS thermoplastic 3D printed modifications to the exterior of cargo aircraft to reduce drag and improve fuel consumption by 4%. Emirates Airlines now has 3D printed fire resistant cabin parts that reduce weight of the original part by 9-13% and are produced on-demand, reducing inventory costs and time of aircraft on ground. Airbus Space and Defense has developed the first metal 3D printed radio frequency (RF) filter, tested and validated for use in commercial telecommunications satellites.

3D Systems Metro Aerospace Introduces 3D Printed Part for Fuel Efficiency in Aerospace
Reliable isotropic properties of 3D Systems' SLS nylon enable delivery of consistent output

These companies and others have achieved these results, certifications, and clearances, in close partnership with 3D Systems’ teams of R&D and advanced applications engineers as well as 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing services. Separately, 3D Systems’ Advanced Development Group works ceaselessly with the U.S. Army and Air Force Research Labs and blue-chip aerospace manufacturers on qualification and certification processes of 3D printers and 3D printing materials, including metals and metal alloys. This is all achieved with an intense focus on ensuring traceability and repeatability for these critical part production operations.

For Metro Aerospace, the final nylon SLS 3D printed microvanes had to meet all of the rigorous standards outlined by the engineers who designed them, as well as undergo a First Article Inspection Report (FAIR) with thorough documentation to prove traceability for FAA regulations. 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team and Metro Aerospace worked closely throughout the process to ensure that every detail was completed, starting with printer qualification and third-party material testing through to part labeling, finishing and shipping. The two companies also partnered to meticulously record a process control document and verification to satisfy the stringent requirements of delivering a new product within such a highly regulated space.

According to Leslie Peters, President and CEO of Metro Aerospace, the speed at which everything was achieved by working with 3D Systems was exceptional. “Sometimes a FAIR will take six months alone before you can even start your manufacturing, but within three to four months we were approved and shipping product for a foreign military,” she says. “In terms of speed to market in aerospace, that’s very, very fast.”

“Traceability of the parts is key, ensuring consistent, reliable and repeatable output, within known tolerances,” said Jim Davidson, Operations Manager, On Demand Manufacturing, 3D Systems. “The reliable isotropic properties of 3D Systems’ SLS nylon materials enable us to deliver consistent output, making it far easier to achieve certification required by the FAA.”

The On Demand Manufacturing team in Tulsa, OK, is one of a number of global manufacturing sites and is upgrading its first article inspection technology with more advanced solutions.

“As we evolve our inspection and reporting processes, we anticipate improving inspection times significantly by using 3D Systems’ Geomagic® Control X™  metrology software and non-contact scanning,” says Davidson. “The rapid, automated scan and measurement routines, go/no-go toolsets, and custom reporting will significantly streamline our operations and deliver comprehensive tolerance reports to our customers such as Metro Aerospace.”

As a proof point of the ingenuity of Metro Aerospace’s work, Aviation Week has just awarded Metro Aerospace a prestigious Annual Laureate Award which will be celebrated on March 1, 2018. 3D Systems congratulates Metro Aerospace for being recognized with the Supplier Innovation award for its drag-reducing 3D printed microvanes.

Find out more about 3D Systems’ aerospace customers or contact an expert to explore bringing your more efficient aerospace solution to life.