Optomec has announced it has been awarded a major 3D printing project from America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, focusing on additive manufacturing technology for the US Air Force.
The "Re-Born in the USA" initiative centres on advancing 3D printing technologies to aid in aerospace repairs. It will last two years and is valued at $4 million (£2.3 million, €2.9 million), $2.6 million of which are public shares and $1.4 million is made up of private cost shares. It is the third America Makes project awarded to Optomec this year.
The team led by Optomec will leverage the unique advantages of LENS 3D metal printing technology and the expertise of some of the world’s leading aerospace companies and industry organisations to advance a reliable, cost-effective approach to replace conventional repair processes such as manual welding. The potential benefits of using additive manufacturing to repair high value metal components include lower costs, higher quality, longer life, and faster return to service.
Optomec will lead a project team consisting of 23 partners, including aerospace industry leaders GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies Research Center, and Rolls-Royce, as well as a group of technical experts serving as lead contributors including EWI, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, TechSolve, the Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Lab and Concurrent Technologies Corporation.
The goal of the project is to develop a set of specifications and a knowledge base of best practices in advancing additive manufacturing methods to repair aerospace metal components. This includes definition of optimum powder feedstock characteristics, improvements in process monitoring and control, and recommendations for part repair and sustainment applications specifically for the Air Force.
At the core of the project is Optomec’s LENS metal 3D printing technology. Unlike powder-bed additive manufacturing approaches, the LENS process can add metal onto an existing substrate of almost any 3D shape. Powder-bed processes require a flat, 2D horizontal base. This makes the LENS additive manufacturing process well qualified to perform repair operations. LENS machines are already in use around the world conducting repairs of ground based high value components for defense and other industries.
Dr Richard Grylls, Optomec LENS General Manager and Re-Born in the USA project leader, said: "This award is significant because it highlights that repair is indeed a leading application area in the additive manufacturing landscape. Additionally, it helps to demonstrate that printing onto existing structures in 3D space is a unique and enabling aspect of Optomec 3D printing technologies.
"We are looking forward to working with our partners to deliver a repair methodology that addresses the current challenges faced by the Air Force and provides a framework for the potential adoption of additive manufacturing repair processes throughout the aircraft industry. Together, we will demonstrate the benefits of additive manufacturing over traditional welding techniques and enable a ‘repair, don’t replace’ approach to critical part sustainment for high-value aerospace components."