Booming demand for aircraft and power generation plants is fueling higher requirements for a specialized investment casting process that creates complex hollow internal shapes. Use of molded ceramic cores allows turbine engine blades and vanes to be cast to size with complex cooling passages, permitting engines to operate at higher temperatures with greater efficiency. GE Aviation has a record number of engines on order through 2012, its third record year in a row. The cores are also used for turbines in natural gas power generation plants.
One of the beneficiaries is a company called Certech, which is the largest independent producer of ceramic cores for investment casting. Technology growth is in materials development. “We’re always looking for a better mousetrap to give a better yield to the customer,” says Michael Kasberg, vice president and general manager of Certech. “When they pour metal around our parts sometimes they want to pour hotter metal. As a result you need a ceramic that won’t melt when it sees a higher temperature. “
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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