The aerospace industry’s adoption of additive manufacturing is growing and predicted to revolutionize the manufacturing process. However, to meet stringent FAA and EASA requirements, AM-developed aerospace products must be certified that they can achieve the robust performance levels provided by traditional manufacturing methods. Current certification processes are complex and variable, and thus obstruct AM adoption in aerospace.
Thanks to a newly released aerospace package released by Stratasys for their Fortus 900mc printer and ULTEM 9085 resin, Aerospace Organizations are now able to simplify the aviation certification process for their manufactured parts.
Join PADT’s 3D Printing General Manager, Norman Stucker for a live webinar that will introduce you to the new Stratasys aerospace package that removes the complexity from FAA and EASA certification.
By attending this webinar, you will learn:
How Stratasys can help get more parts certified for flight quicker and easier.
The benefits of Aerospace Organizations using the Fortus 900mc and ULTEM 9085 resin
And much more!
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ULTEM-9085 is one of my favorite materials to 3D-print: one of the reasons is it is a high performance polymer that can and has been used for end part manufacturing (see my blog post about ULTEM in functional aerospace parts), but the other is because it is a demanding material to print, in ways that ABS, Polycarbonate and even Nylon are not. What makes it demanding is primarily that ULTEM supports are not soluble and need to be removed mechanically. An additional challenge comes from the fact that the support is best removed when the part is at a high temperature (175-195 C), which requires the use of gloves and reduces the user’s dexterity. For complex geometries with internal channels, this is particularly challenging and occasionally results in an inability to print a certain part in ULTEM-9085, which runs contrary to the design freedom this technology otherwise enables.
In this post, I accumulate what I have learned through working (and failing) on many an ULTEM-9085 job, as well as through discussions with other users, and share this here in terms of design and process guidelines. To demonstrate these guidelines, I use a recent geometry that we printed for the Arizona State University’s (ASU) SAE team for an engine intake manifold. These guidelines apply to the Stratasys Fortus platform (for Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM) using the Insight software that accompanies these tools. The screen shots are from Insight 10.6, and a Fortus 400 was used to print the parts shown.
Summary of Guidelines:
Orient the part to eliminate supports in regions where you cannot remove them
Remove the supports as soon as the part comes out of the build chamber
Other observations: the interface of separation
1. Part Orientation
The single most important factor in simplifying support removal is part orientation. Most users of the FDM process know that part orientation determines the amount of support material consumed and also impacts the time to build the part. When working with ULTEM-9085, the additional challenge is that it is possible to design in supports that cannot be removed and will require you to scrap the job. This is especially true of internal features. While the automatic orientation feature in Insight allows you to minimize supports, it does not account for the difficulty of removing them. Thus when you are dealing with internal features, you may need to manually orient your part such that the internal features are aligned as close to the vertical as possible, and above the support angle (to be covered later).
As shown in Figure 1, for the intake manifold, I oriented the internal pipe structure close to the vertical and had to iterate a few times and verify that I had no support in the hard-to-reach areas. While I did have supports internally, they were limited to areas that were easy to access.
2. Box Supports
In a recent software upgrade, Insight added the ability to create box supports. The support structures consist of adjacent boxes instead of a continuous raster, which has the effect of allowing for easier separation of the support, though does slow down the build time. In my experience this support strategy does help with removal – the one parameter to consider here is the “Perforations” setting, though the default values were used for this part. The perforation is a layer of model material that is inserted into the support to make for easier breaking off of the support material. All cleavage surfaces in Fig. 3 are at perforation edges and you can see the building like construction with each floor distinguished by a layer of model material. When you have supports in hard to access regions, consider increasing the interval height so as to ensure you get separation at the model-support interface on the part before it occurs within the support on a perforation layer.
3. Optimize Process Parameters
While orientation will have the most significant impact on the support you need, another variable to be aware of is the “Self-Support Angle” parameter. This angle is measured from the horizontal, and represents the minimum angle of the part wall that will be built without supports. As a result, to reduce support requirements, you want this number to be as low as possible so that a greater volume of the part can be self-supported. Stratasys recommends default values, but these scale as a function of the contour width, and layer thickness, as shown in Fig. 4. The values bottom out at 40 degrees for the 0.013″ layer thickness and 43 degrees for the 0.010″ layer thickness. Thus, all other things being equal, you will be able to reduce the support needed by choosing a 0.013″ layer thickness and a 0.026″ or larger contour width. Note that both of these will impact your ability to resolve thin walls and fine features, so ensure you scan through all the tool-paths to validate that the geometry is accurately filled in.
4. Remove Supports Immediately
Supports are best removed when the model-support interface is hot. The best time to do this is right after you remove the parts from the print chamber, which is held at 195 C for ULTEM-9085. Ensure you have safety glasses on, work with thermal gloves and have a plier handy to pull out the support. In theory the parts can be re-heated again (175 C is a reasonable value for the oven), but Stratasys suggests that each re-heat cycle actually strengthens the interface, making it harder to remove. As a result, the best time to remove the supports is immediately out of the printer. Figure 5 shows the results of support removal for the intake manifold parts, including the build sheet.
5. Other Observations: the Interface of Separation
It helps to visualize what we are trying to do when we remove supports. There are two interfaces in question here, as shown in Figure 6. One is the model-support interface, the other is the support-box structure interface. We need separation at the model-support interface since removing the thin piece of interface material can prove challenging if the box supports have broken off (as happened for the piece below). What this means is as you remove support, you need to not just pull the supports but also add some peeling force that creates the separation. Once you create separation at the correct interface, you can pull the supports and should have proper cleavage.
One final point to keep in mind is that in some cases, eliminating internal supports may be impossible, as shown for a different part in Figure 7 below. The point is to eliminate the support in places you cannot reach with your pliers and get enough peeling force applied to. In the case below, I chose to have supports at the wide opening since I had adequate access to them. With practice, you will get a better sense of what supports can and cannot be removed and use that intuition to better shape your design and process layout decisions before you print.
Show your support for ASU’s Formula SAE team at their Facebook page and see a video about the endeavor here.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most widely used 3D printing technology today, ranging from desktop printers to industrial scale manufacturing tools. While the use of FDM for prototyping and rapid tooling is well established, its use for manufacturing end-use parts in aerospace is a more recent phenomenon. This has been brought about primarily due to the availability of one material choice in particular: ULTEM. ULTEM is a thermoplastic that delivers compliance with FAA FAR 25.853 requirements. It features inherent flame retardant behavior and provides a high strength-to-weight ratio, outstanding elevated thermal resistance, high strength and stiffness and broad chemical resistance (official SABIC press release).
During an industry scan I conducted for a recent research proposal PADT submitted, I came across several examples of the aerospace industry using the FDM process to manufacture end-use parts. Each of these examples is interesting because they demonstrate the different criteria that make FDM preferable over traditional options, and I have classified them accordingly into: design opportunity, cost and lead-time reduction, and supply complexity.
Design Opportunity: In this category, I include parts that were primarily selected for 3D printing because of the unique design freedom that layer-wise additive manufacturing offers. This applies to all 3D printing technologies, the two examples below are for FDM in ducts.
ULA Environmental Control System (ECS) duct: As reported in a prior blog post, United Launch Alliance (ULA) leveraged FDM technology to manufacture an ECS duct and reduce the overall assembly from 140 parts to only 16, while reducing production costs by 57%. The ECS ducts distribute temperature and humidity controlled air onto sensitive avionics equipment during launch and need to withstand strong vibrations. The first Atlas V with these ducts is expected to launch in 2016.
Orbis Flying Eye Hospital aircraft duct: The Flying Eye Hospital is an amazing concept from Orbis, who use a refurbished DC-10 plane to deliver eye care around the world. The plane actually houses all the surgical rooms to conduct operations and also has educational classrooms. The refurbishment posed a particular challenge when it came to air conditioning: a duct had to transfer air over a rigid barrier while maintaining the volume. Due to the required geometric complexity, the team selected FDM and ULTEM to manufacture this duct, and installed it and met with FAA approval. The story is described in more detail in this video.
Supply Complexity: 3D printing has a significant role to play in retro-fitting of components on legacy aircraft. The challenge with maintaining these aircrafts is that often the original manufacturer either no longer is in business or makes the parts.
Airbus Safety belt holder: Airbus shared an interesting case of a safety belt holder that had to be retrofitted for the A310 aircraft. The original supplier made these 30 years ago and since went out of business and rebuilding the molds would cost thousands of dollars and be time-consuming. Airbus decided to use FDM to print these safety belt holders as described in this video. They took a mere 2 hours to design the part from existing drawings, and had the actual part printed and ready for evaluation within a week!
Incidentally, the US Air Force has also recognized this as a critical opportunity to drive down costs and reduce the downtime spent by aircrafts awaiting parts, as indicated by a recent research grant they are funding to enable them to leverage 3D printing for the purpose of improving the availability of parts that are difficult and/or expensive to procure. As of 2014, The Department of Defense (DOD) reported that they have maintenance crews supporting a staggering 31,900 combat vehicles, 239 ships and 16,900 aircraft – and identified 3D printing as a key factor in improving parts availability for these crews.
Cost & Lead-time Reduction: In low-volume, high-value industries such as aerospace, 3D printing has a very strong proposition to make as a technology that will bring products to market faster and cheaper. What is often a surprise is the levels of reduction that can be obtained with 3D printing, as borne out by the three examples below.
Airbus A350 Electric wire covers: The Airbus A350 has several hundred plastic covers that are 3D printed with FDM. These covers are used for housing electric wires at junction boxes. Airbus claims it took 70% less time to make these parts, and the manufacturing costs plunged 80%. See this video for more information.
Kelly Manufacturing Toroid housing: Kelly Manufacturing selected FDM to manufacture toroid housings that are assembled into their M3500 instrument, which is a “turn and bank” indicator which provides the pilot information regarding the rate of aircraft turn. These housings were previously made of urethane castings and required manual sanding to remove artifacts from the casting process, and also had high costs and lead times associated with tooling. Using FDM, they were able to eliminate the need to do sanding and reduced the lead time 93% and also reduced per-piece costs by 5% while eliminating the large tooling costs. See the official case study from Stratasys here.
These examples help demonstrate that 3D printing parts can be a cost savings solution and almost always results in significant lead time reduction – both of vital interest in the increasingly competitive aerospace industry. Further, design freedom offered by 3D printing allows manufacturing geometries that are otherwise impossible or cost prohibitive to make using other processes, and also have enormous benefit in overcoming roadblocks in the supply chain. At the same time, not every part on an aircraft is a suitable candidate for 3D printing. As we have just seen, selection criteria involve the readily quantifiable metrics of part cost and lead time, but also involve less tangible factors such as supply chain complexity, and the design benefits available to additive manufacturing. An additional factor not explicitly mentioned in any of the previous examples is the criticality of the part to the flight and the safety of the crew and passengers on board. All these factors need to be taken into consideration when determining the suitability of the part for 3D printing.
Every once in a while a customer hits a home run with Additive Manufacturing, and United Launch Alliance had done that with their application of Stratasys technology to the production of flight-ready components for their rockets. They were able to leverage 3D printing to take one component from 140 parts to 16, reducing the risks associated with creating the assembly, the piece part costs, and the assembly cost. And PADT is proud to say we were partners in this effort with ULA and Stratasys.
If you are not familiar with ULA, they are the worlds premier launch service company in the US. It is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed that launches the majority of military and civilian payloads that are sent in to space. True "rocket scientists" who are headquartered down the street from PADT's Littleton Colorado office. They just released a ton of information on how they are using the Stratasys devices they acquired through PADT as an example of what the technology can achieve.
Here is a picture from Stratasys of one of ULA's structural engineers, Kyle Whitflow, holding an ECS duct they created on the Stratasys Fortus 900mc they purchased through PADT:
Stratasys just released a great video on how ULA is using the technology. This is a great example of the right people, using the right technology, in the right way:
You can also read the official press release here.
We are highlighting his application as a way to let people know that 3D Printing is not just about makers, nor is it just about engineering prototypes. Every day users are creating production hardware to produce usable parts that save them time and money. Ducts for rockets are a perfect use of the technology because they are complex, low volume, and can make single parts that need to be made in multiple pieces using traditional methods. This application also highlights the power of the material choices available to users of Stratasys FDM technology. ULA is using ULTEM 9085 for these ducts because it is durable, lightweight, and can stand up to the heat of the launch event.
Those of you familiar with the process will notice the dots on the duct. Those are target dots for 3D scanning. ULA took the technology one step further and scan the completed hardware to make sure the manufactured part is within specifications.
The team at ULA has been a pleasure to work with. They saw the promise of Additive Manufacturing but dealt with it like the seasoned professionals that they are. They started by making engineering prototypes, then as they got a feel for the technology they switched to the production of tooling for manufacturing. They have now developed the confidence needed to move to flight hardware. In addition to supplying the machines, PADT consulted with ULA early on, touring their manufacturing facilities to better understand their needs and taking them to see how others are using FDM for manufacturing. We were fortunate enough to even be invited to attend the launch of their Orion spacecraft from Florida as their guest.
We are very excited about the additional uses ULA and other companies will develop in the near future for Additive Manufacturing.
If you want to know more, or would like to have PADT help you in the same way we assisted ULA, please reach out or email firstname.lastname@example.org.