GE Aviation, Lockheed & Optomec Star in Metal 3D Printing Project
The Anniston Army Depot repaired components of the Abrams M1 Tank AGT1500 engine using an Optomec LENS 3D printer, eliminating the high-heat welding process used with traditional methods that can cause distortion effects. This process is now the subject of a $4 million Optomec-headed America Makes project for the Air Force. (Source: Anniston Army Depot)
Really like the direction this program is taking with creating spare parts for legacy flight programs through the use of 3D printing. Since the fabrication of these spare parts is typically high mix and low volume, in many cases, this will prove to be an outstanding fit.
Aside from prototyping and, in some cases, end-production manufacturing, one of the most promising use cases for metal 3D printing and additive manufacturing is for repairing high-value components. But additive manufacturing techniques are not created equal for any of these. The conformal layers that can be achieved with the LENS process on non-flat surfaces of parts makes it stand out for this application.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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