Additive manufacturing has become more widely used in the aerospace industry, being a proven fabrication method for lightweighting and part unification. New materials and technologies are quickly gaining an industry foothold, bringing a number of new advantages to the table for design and engineering teams, as well as large scale manufacturers. In this featured blog post, Account Manager Tomeo Wise shares his additive manufacturing for aerospace applications experience and answers a few of your most frequently asked questions. Wise has been with Fathom since 2014 and began his career in advanced composites for the aerospace industry.
What is your background in the aerospace industry?
Before working at Fathom, I spent about half a decade working for an advanced composites supplier, FiberDyne, largely focused on the aerospace industry. FiberDyne is AS9100 Rev. C certified, so Im highly familiar with the requirements and specifications of materials for use in the industry. And on a more personal note, Im a certified private pilot. Ive always loved flying and being able to work with aviation and aerospace in my professional career has been a major blessing.
What would you say are the most commonly used additive materials in the aerospace industry?
As material properties get better, we at Fathom are seeing a wider adoption within the aerospace industry. At the moment, our aerospace customers like ULTEM 1010 and ULTEM 9085 because of their FST (Flame, Smoke, Toxicity) ratings. We are excited for customers to begin using the new Nylon 12 Carbon Filled material from Stratasys, as well as the new metal 3D printing capabilities were bringing to our base through a new partnership with Desktop Metal.
What are the most common applications you have seen for additive in aerospace?
At Fathom, were seeing 3D printing utilized on the manufacturing side more and more. Many people think of additive technologies for prototypes or widgets. However, because we can 3D print with engineering-grade thermoplastics, companies are taking advantage of the functional aspects of 3D printing to increase efficiencies in their manufacturing processes. I’ve seen everything from jigs, fixtures, trim guides, drill guides and forming bucks to even customized ergonomic tools for each individual production employee. With ULTEM materials, one very popular application is utilizing the higher heat deflection temperature for composite layup molds.
What are some examples of your customers maximizing the benefits of additive? Any companies that stand out as particularly adept with additive?
I worked with an aerospace supply company, Skills Inc., that had a project that required several hundred low volume sheet metal parts. They decided to use Polycarbonate on an FDM-based system to 3D print the forming bucks. They found the 3D printed bucks worked well for their low-volume needs. Ultimately, by integrating the Fortus 450mc into their workflow, they were able to save $500K in the first year in CNC machining costs.
As our Co-Founder Rich Stump recently said in an interview, The Fathom team helps companies figure out what technologies, materials and processes ensure the best results at the fastest speed throughout their entire product development process, from testing aesthetics, form, fit and function to producing end-use parts like assembly fixtures or finished goods. As it often occurs at Fathom, advanced technologies and traditional methods are complementary. 3D printing and additive manufacturing at Fathom are used to solve highly complex problems in ways and at speeds, not previously possible. Our work with Skills Inc. perfectly embodies the hybridized manufacturing solutions we look to help implement.
How do additively manufactured jigs and fixtures change the production pipeline?
With 3D printing, complexity is free. Since aerospace manufacturing is generally low-volume, high value and customized to end-use, having the freedom of design that additive provides allows for fabrication of complicated jigs and fixtures for a fraction of the cost and time.
Again, as our Co-Founder Rich Stump recently said, Fathom encourages customers to focus on how a product should function rather than how it will be made to drive greater innovation and push the limits of manufacturing. Whether manufactured traditionally, additively or a hybrid of both at Fathom, this “outside-in” approach of ours enables companies to generate better products with the greatest functionality.
At what stage of product development are you seeing the most widespread adoption of additive technologies in the aerospace industry?
Like stated earlier, with new materials like Agilus30, Nylon 6 and Nylon 12CF being rolled out every year, we are seeing additive technologies being utilized in most phases of the product development cycle. From early concept models to manufacturing aids to final fly away parts, additive manufacturing has become an integral part of the design process.
Have you worked with any aerospace companies that are producing end-use parts through additive?
Some companies are using ULTEM 9085 for nonstructural, non-cosmetic parts—but its likely that many more will do so in the near future that arent yet fully comfortable with designing for additive manufacturing (DFAM). Mostly I’ve seen it being used for ducting and in-flight entertainment housings. I know GE and SpaceX have pioneered DMLS metal printing in their engine components. As additive technologies, materials, software and processes improve, more end-use and production parts will shift towards being additively manufactured.
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Fathom takes a technology-agnostic approach to solving your application challenges, so we offer a comprehensive list of manufacturing services to support all of your prototyping and production part needs—3D printing, additive manufacturing, CNC machining, urethane casting, tooling, injection molding, R&D and concept development (industrial and mechanical engineering support).