Talk about the power of 3-D modeling and 3-D printing. This week at Autodesk University 2009, Autodesk and Stratasys showcased a full-scale turbo-prop airplane engine model created and designed in Inventor 2010 and produced using Stratasys FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology on both the Fortus 3D Production System and Dimension 3D printer.
The engine model, which both companies say sets a new precedence in scale, features a gear box that includes two sets of gears, which operate two sets of propellers that move in counter rotation to each other. The scale of the 3-D-developed and produced engine prop is giant: The engine length is over 10 feet and it features a blade-span of 10.5 feet with 188 components. There are also several large parts, including six propeller blades, measuring 4.5 feet.
The companies made a case for their combined technologies, saying that building the physical model with the FDM technology helped improve its overall design because the engineering team was able to identify opportunities to make components fit or operate with better precision. The partners also claimed all 188 components were produced in four weeks and assembled in 2.5 weeks for a total production time of 6.5 weeks. They compared that target to conventional fabrication processes such as machining and casting, which they claim would take a manufacturer nine months or longer. They also played up the cost savings associated with the approach: Using the FDM process in-house, a manufacturer might spend roughly $25,000, vs. an estimated $800,000 to $1 million for conventional processes, they said.
The turbo-prop engine was designed by Nino Caldarola, a freelance designer for Autodesk. Caldarola’s design, a hybrid of newer engine and classic engine design, was partially inspired by the Piaggio Avanti II aircraft engine, the TP 500. Components for the final model were made of ABS plastic as opposed to metal, which would have been the case using conventional prototyping processes, officials said.