While 3D printing offers great potential for aerospace, one of the key things slowing adoption has been the process of achieving airworthiness certification from authorities such as the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency).
Stratasys claims that its Aircraft Interiors Certification Solution removes major obstacles and makes it much easier to 3D print airworthy parts.
The company introduced the system at Paris Airshow last year.
Jim Orrock, Stratasys, comments: “The 3D printer of course is at the heart of it, and what Stratasys has done over the last two to three years is made substantial increases [in the] capability [of ] the system, in particular improving the part-to-part mechanical property repeatability. That, for us, is a key first step to being a real viable manufacturing process.
"So now we have a printer that can produce parts with a co-efficient of variance well below 3%."
The solution includes ULTEM 9085 resin, a strong, lightweight thermoplastic which meets aerospace flame, smoke and toxicity (FST) regulations (FAR 25.863), and the Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer with specialised hardware and software designed to deliver highly repeatable mechanical properties.
Orrock said: “We offer a certified version of [ULTEM 9085] and we offer a printer configuration that also has a process control document so users can install this printer and verify if it's working as it needs to be to achieve that part property variance that I just mentioned, but also can use that as a means to prove they have a controlled process.”
Orrock highlights the importance of using 'design allowables', based on a database of proven characteristics, to speed things up. These have been created in consultation with the FAA and EASA.
Orrock says: “Now we have a certified material, a controlled process and, in addition to this, through an America Makes programme and working with partners in the industry, we have created a very large database that's going to turn into a ‘designer allowable’ database for using the Stratasys Fortus 900 printer controlled via the process control document, and a ‘design allowable’ database that allows, we think, our customers to get to certified airworthy parts about a year faster and maybe a million dollars cheaper than it would have cost them otherwise.”
Stratasys also recently revealed a new material – a PEKK(Polyetherketoneketone)-based high-performance thermoplastic called Antero 800NA – for 3D printing high-temperature, chemical-exposed parts, such as those in aerospace.
“Its primary advantage is chemical resistance,” says Orrock. “So now we have a material that can be exposed to hydraulic fluids or jet fuel and be used in places where that may happen.”
He said this could particularly benefit aircraft manufacturers and operators carrying out retrofits, as well as others who need to respond to demands for customisation, low volumes and quick turnarounds,.
“They now have a proven manufacturing technology based on 3D printing they can exploit," Orrock said.