- A connecting element used in the Airbus A350 XWB made it to the final round of the “2014 German Industry Innovation Award”
- Additive manufacturing in aircraft construction is gaining ground
- 3D metal printing enables “bionic” aircraft designs and lightweight construction
Lichtenfels, Sep. 6, 2014: Laser melting with metals is increasingly gaining in importance in aircraft manufacturing. The reasons for this are typical concerns in the industry however: quicker throughput times, more cost-effective components and heretofore unimaginable freedom of design.
Two new key words, “lightweight” and “bionics” point to an emerging trend: additive manufacturing provides the basis for a new process that is changing the way engineers think about design.
In terms of aircraft design, future components will be able to absorb specific lines of force yet still be able to fulfill the demands of lightweight construction methods. At the same time, sustainability and resource conservation make a contribution to overall improvements in cost structures.
The bracket connector used in the Airbus A350 XWB was honored as a finalist in the running for the “2014 German Industry Innovation Award.” In the eyes of the jury, this cross-industry project is revolutionizing the way structural aircraft components are made and lightweight construction is implemented in civil aircraft. Previously this component was a milled part made of aluminum (Al); now it is a printed part made of titanium (Ti) with a weight reduction of greater than 30%.
New design approaches for aircraft structural elements
The arguments for the laser melting of metals in aircraft construction are geometric freedom and weight reduction. The “lightweight construction” approach is intended to help airlines operate their aircraft more economically. For retaining elements (brackets), the achievable weight reduction results in a tendency towards lower fuel consumption or the potential to increase the load capacity of aircraft.
A new aircraft design requires thousands of Flight Test Installation (FTI) brackets, which are produced in very small unit quantities. Additive layer manufacturing allows designers to come up with new structures. The additive components are in fact more than 30% lighter than conventional cast or machined parts. In addition, the CAD data are the direct basis for an additive construction job.
The omission of tools reduces the costs and shortens the time until the component is available for use by up to 75%. Since tools are not required in the process, it’s now possible at an early stage to produce functional samples of components that are similar to series produced components. This is done without upfront costs for tools. This means that sources of error can be identified in the early stages of the design process, which allows for optimization of processes within the project as a whole. Peter Sander, Head of Emerging Technologies & Concepts, Airbus, Hamburg: “Previously we budgeted around six months to develop a component – now, it’s down to one month.”
“Green technology” conserves resources
Milling of aircraft parts results in up to 95% recyclable waste. With laser melting, the user receives components with “near-final contours,” and the process produces only around 5% waste. “In aircraft manufacturing, we work with the “buy to fly” ratio, and 90% is a fantastic figure. Of course, this value is also reflected in the positive energy balance,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Claus Emmelmann, CEO, Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH, Hamburg. This makes the process especially attractive when valuable and expensive aircraft materials, such as titanium, are being used. A tool-less manufacturing strategy saves time and improves the cost structure. Targeted energy consumption and conservation of resources are key features of the laser melting process. Frank Herzog, CEO & President, Concept Laser GmbH, Lichtenfels: “LaserCUSING is a green technology and improves the often discussed environmental footprint of production.”
Aircraft construction as an engine of change
Generally speaking, laser melting results in a positive effect on manufacturing costs for small to medium-sized unit quantities. Peter Sander: “Batch size considerations are more essential in aircraft construction than in volume manufacturing in order to achieve economies of scale.” For instance, the comparatively higher relative investment costs for casting molds are eliminated, as well as any costs for tools that may be required. In addition, laser additive manufacturing offers greater design freedom than conventional manufacturing strategies. This way undercuts and interior channels, e.g. for cooling, can be produced. In aviation, aircraft manufacturers are already thinking of cooled elements for electronics or intelligent, hydraulic components.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emmelmann: “I see great potential in particular for structural components with dimensions of up to one meter, as well as for engine components.” However, joining methods for increasing component size right up to the limits of physics are not hard to imagine. The real highlight remains: previously unimaginable geometries can be combined with functionalities for the first time. The flow of forces in the component can already be determined very accurately in the CAD design.
In general, laser melting technology is capable of developing safety-related components that are even better, lighter and more durable than the components available today. Moreover, the material properties are slightly different. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emmelmann: “Materials produced using laser additive manufacturing have greater rigidity while at the same time, less ductility; this can be enhanced with the right heat treatment, however.”
Spare parts supply 2.0: Timely, decentralized and “on demand”
Spare parts constitute a new playing field for “additive aeronauts”. In the future it will be possible to manufacture spare parts in “on demand” in decentralized locations and without the need for tools. In the event of a component failure, the spare part can be produced directly where it is needed. Decentralized production networks may be formed and global and regional strategies are possible. This minimizes transport distances and above all, delivery times. As a consequence, maintenance-related downtimes and inspection times for aircraft are reduced.
In the near future it will be possible to significantly reduce the large spare parts depots with rarely used parts that are currently essential given the long life cycles of today’s aircraft. A reduced capital commitment increases flexibility and especially the time needed to obtain safety-related components. This is especially attractive given the cost pressures in the aviation industry.
Bionics in component or product design
Laser melting with metals allows extremely fine, even bone-like, i.e. porous structures to be produced. “Future aircraft parts will therefore have a “bionic” look”, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emmelmann believes. Over millions of years Nature has produced optimized functional and lightweight construction principles which minimize the amount of resources required in clever ways. Airbus is currently analyzing solutions found in nature with regard to their applicability. By relying on “intelligent exposure strategies” of the laser, it can apply layers to a component in a strategic manner in order to produce custom properties in terms of structure, rigidity and surface quality.
Peter Sander: “The first prototypes show the great potential of a bionically-motivated approach involving all relevant safety requirements. The process is expected to launch something of a paradigm shift in design and production.”
Fatigue strength as a parameter
“The current limitations of the technology exist because of the compromises that have to be with regard to surface quality, which, however, are comparable with those of cast components,” says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emmelmann. These phenomena cause a significant reduction in the fatigue strength of titanium for example. Precisely this parameter is essential for structural components in aircraft manufacturing, which are exposed to high stress. Here you have to consider the high loads to which aircraft are exposed in their extremely long life cycle (>30 years). Nevertheless, downstream surface treatments, such as those using microblasting, can significantly increase fatigue strength when combined with proper heat treatment. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emmelmann: “As a result, the values of a rolled material can be achieved.”
Quality as a significant parameter
For aircraft manufacturers, monitoring during the component’s construction phase is one of the most important aspects of the industrial application. Peter Sander: “In practice, the “Inline Process Monitoring” provided by the QMmeltpool QM Module from Concept Laser means the process is monitored over a very small area of 1×1 mm² using a camera and photo diode. The process is then documented.”
The QM modules such as QMmeltpool, QMcoating, QMatmosphere, QMpowder and QMlaser are the fundamental instruments for active quality assurance while the component is being manufactured. They measure laser output, the melt bath, the layer structure of the metal powder and monitor and document the entire manufacturing process seamlessly.
An additional mark in terms of quality assurance is the capability to work in a closed system, which guarantees that the process remains free of particles and contamination. All disruptive influences that could negatively influence the process should be eliminated this way. Frank Herzog: “These days it’s accurate to call this a regulated manufacturing process that provides repetition accuracy and process reliability.”
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emmelmann emphasizes by saying: “The QS software now enables us to monitor and document key data, such as laser parameters, melt pool parameters, as well as the composition of the inert gas atmosphere.” Disruptions due to contamination can be eliminated. In an on-going research project we are developing our own quality assurance concept, which is based partly on optical coherence tomography.”
Passenger aircraft remain in use for a very long life cycle of more than 30 years. Planes are exposed to diverse and extremely complex load spectra in flight operations. In addition to basic static stresses, aircraft are exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations during ground and flight operations, for example. Continuous stresses that demand the maximum from the affected parts are determining factors. These include takeoffs and landings, as well as flight operation with permanent turbulence which can lead to several meters of deflection at the wing tips. However, only static load cases are initially relevant to designing retaining structures (brackets).
About Concept Laser
Concept Laser GmbH is an independent company from Lichtenfels, Germany. Since its founding in 2000, it has been a leading innovator in the field of laser melting with the patented LaserCUSING® technology across many industries.
The term LaserCUSING®, a combination of the C from CONCEPT Laser and the word FUSING (to fully melt) describes the technology: the fusing process generates components layer by layer using 3D CAD data.
The method allows the production of complex component geometries without tools to create parts that are difficult or even impossible to achieve through conventional manufacturing.
With the LaserCUSING® process, conformal cooling can be used to create tool inserts as well as direct components for the jewelry, medical, dental, automotive and aerospace industries. This applies to prototypes and series parts.
The company offers both standard systems and custom concepts for metal laser melting. With Concept Laser, full service as an option means that customers can either purchase their own metal laser melting systems or rely directly on service and development services.
Laser machining systems from Concept Laser process powder materials made from stainless steel, hot work tool steels, cobalt-chromium alloy, nickel-base alloy as well as reactive powder materials such as aluminum and titanium alloys. Precious metals such as gold or silver alloys for jewelry making are also an option.
LaserCUSING® offers new perspectives in terms of cost and speed for efficient product development in industries such as:
- Medical and dental technology
- Aeronautics and space industry
- Tool and mold construction
- Automotive and racing
- Mechanical engineering
The systems reduce development time and costs substantially while offering much greater flexibility in product development.
The high quality standards, level of experience and successful track record of Concept Laser guarantee reliable and cost-effective solutions with proven performance in daily production, with a particular focus on unit cost reductions.
Concept Laser trade fair appearances
TCT, Birmingham (UK), 09/30 – 10/02/2014
Jimtof, Tokyo (Japan), 10/30 – 11/05/2014
Euromold, Frankfurt (Germany), 11/25 – 11/28/2014
Concept Laser GmbH
An der Zeil 8
Phone: +49 (0)9571.1679 – 0
Concept Laser GmbH
Phone: +49 (0) 9571 1679 – 251
Airbus is the leading commercial aircraft manufacturer offering the most modern and efficient passenger aircraft family on the more than 100-seat market. Airbus champions innovative technologies and offers some of the world’s most fuel efficient and quiet aircraft. In 2013, Airbus made a turnover of 42 billion euros.
Over the last 40 years, customer focus, commercial know-how, technological leadership and manufacturing efficiency have propelled Airbus to the forefront of the industry. Airbus – which now spearheads the newly consolidated “Airbus Group” – today consistently captures about half of all commercial airliner orders.
Airbus’ comprehensive product line comprises highly successful families of aircraft ranging from 100 to more than 500 seats: the single-aisle A320 Family, including A320neo, the best-selling aircraft in aviation history, the wide-body long-range A330 Family (including the freighter and the A330-based MRTT), the all-new next generation A350 XWB Family and the double-deck A380. Across all its aircraft families Airbus’ unique approach ensures that aircraft share the highest commonality in airframes, on-board systems, cockpits and handling characteristics. This reduces significantly operating costs for airlines.
Dedicated to assisting airlines enhance the profitability of their fleets, Airbus also delivers a wide range of customer services in all areas of support, tailored to the needs of individual operators all over the world.
Airbus employs 72 000 people of which 55 000 at Airbus and 17,000 in its subsidiaries. Even though it is headquartered in Toulouse, France, Airbus is a truly global enterprise with fully- owned subsidiaries in the United States, China, Japan, India and in the Middle East, and spare parts centres in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Washington, Beijing, Dubaï and Singapore. Airbus also has training centres in Toulouse, Miami, Hamburg, Bangalore and Beijing, and more than 150 field service offices around the world. Airbus also relies on industrial co-operation and partnerships with major companies all over the world, and a network of some 2,000 suppliers (for the flying parts alone) in more than 20 countries.
As an industry leader, Airbus strives to be a truly eco-efficient enterprise. To that end Airbus is the first aeronautics company in the world to have earned the ISO 14001 environmental certification for all production sites and products for the entire life cycle. Airbus seeks to ensure that air transport continues to be an eco-efficient means of transport, delivering economic value while minimizing its environmental impact.
Phone: +49 (0) 40 743 – 72336
About LZN Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH
In cooperation with industry, research and policy, the LZN Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH (LZN) was founded by the Institute of Laser and System Technologies in 2009.
The LZN represents an innovative and application-oriented technology transfer center for optical technologies (OT) and production technologies. The basic idea of the LZN is to establish innovative process chains built up from design to production and quality assurance. This should promote for novel applications in the metal and plastic manufacturing for shipbuilding, aircraft industry, automotive, machine and tool construction and medical technology. This should lead to an economic and employment growth for companies.
For the industrial manufacturing the use of Laser received a high priority as an outstanding OT-tool. In addition to the state-of-the-art scoring methods such as Laser marking, Laser cutting and Laser joining many procedures have been developed. These systems like Laser Additive Layer Manufacturing, Laser Abliation and Laser-Remote-Welding are on the threshold of major industrial applications. But the implementation of these procedures into marketable products is a considerable business risk especially for small- and medium-sizes enterprises due to the complexity of production processes and high levels of investment.
To reduce such innovation barriers, the LZN offers in the field of OT-supported production technologies education, plant and process development, product development and research as well as consulting.
By establishing the so-called LaserCompetenceFields (LCF) the LZN works for reducing the OT-innovation barriers. Every LCF represents the entire process chain form the design to the production up to the quality assurance in its particular industry. For interested companies there is the opportunity to acquire skills in this novel production structures in order to integrate them into their business.
These LCF’s are:
- AirLAS for the aviation industry,
- MedLAS for medical technology,
- RoLAS for the automotive and metal sheets parts production,
- ShipLAS for shipbuilding,
- SynLAS for plastic processing,
- ToolLAS for machine and tool construction.
LZN Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH
Phone: +49 (0) 40 484010 – 810