Rolls-Royce is set to flight test an engine later this year featuring the world’s largest 3D printed aerospace component.
The Trent XWB-97 engine comprises a 1.5m diameter titanium structure with 0.5m-thick front bearing housing containing 48 aerofoils manufactured using Arcam’s additive manufacturing technology. Initial research on the process and material behaviour was carried out at the University of Sheffield and then sent for piloting at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry.
Iain Todd, Professor of Metallurgy and Materials Processing at the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering, has been working with Rolls-Royce on this technology since 2009.
Iain explained: “This is the first time that a significant load bearing component will be produced using additive manufacturing rather than the conventional processes of casting or forging.
"For those of us that work in additive manufacturing, the barriers have not been the maturity of the technology itself, but the huge programme of testing, research and quality assurance that is needed for a new manufacturing process to gain approval. Rolls Royce are the first to reach this point, building on their experience of innovation in high value manufacturing and drawing on an excellent research base in additive manufacturing here in the UK."
Currently Rolls-Royce does not plan on introducing the part into production of the XWB-97s but the move does provide the industry with key proof of the viability of additive manufacturing in aerospace components and the potential to cut leads times by 30%.
Iain added: "Extensive testing of the prototypes, with the results fed back to further improve the process, has now built sufficient confidence in the final product for large scale manufacture to be considered.”
The University of Sheffield has carried out extensive additive manufacturing research in the aerospace sector and its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing recently surpassed a construction milestone putting it on course for completion at the end of this year. The £43 million Factory 2050 is the UK’s first reconfigurable digital factory designed to respond to the increasing demand for advanced manufacturing technology.