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3D-Printed Plane Takes Flight

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Ivan Kirkpatrick
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Platinum
Wing Complexity
Ivan Kirkpatrick   8/29/2011 9:34:42 AM
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I am not so sure I can agree with your comment about it being "not so far fetched".  From what I know of modern commercial aircraft wings, they are very complex mechanical constructions that are highly stressed.  I have watched video of a "test to failure" when I worked at Boeing on a new wing for one of the big airliners.  The wing is displaced with an array of cables while stress gauges take measurements.  The failure is rather dramatic even in a controlled environment.

I am impressed with the progress being made in additive manufacturing and it will definitely have a place in producing production parts and assemblies.  However a modern commercial aircraft wing requires structural loads that would seem to be inconsistent with the nylon materials mentioned in the article.

What would be the advantages to be obtained in using this manufacturing technique in a production setting?  I can see speed and perhaps cost, maybe consistency in shape and strength?  Corrosion resistance and maintainability might be a factor as well.

It just seems like the best application for this technology is going to be in lightly loaded applications.  If that is true then carefully selecting the applications for the manufacturing process would be required as I am sure they are doing right now.

It is a very interesting project nonetheless and one to watch.

Beth Stackpole
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Blogger
Re: Wing Complexity
Beth Stackpole   8/29/2011 9:55:25 AM
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Ivan: Given that you worked at Boeing and obviously know far more about the use of this kind of technology and the complexities involved in aircraft wing development, I'm going to defer to you on this one.

So perhaps it is a bit far-fetched at this point, but projects like this are becoming more commonplace. My point was that efforts like the SULSA and the Urbee (and the many others we've reported on and will report on) all play a key role in advancing additive manufacturing technology so it can be used at commercially at some point on this kind of scale. As for the advantages, the research team cited the ability to more cost-effectively produce hard-to-manufacture shapes and structures and reduced reliance on expensive tooling. I guess the bottom line is we'll have to wait and see.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
A solution for Hollywood
Charles Murray   8/29/2011 11:30:17 AM
It would be interesting to see the largest models that could be built using this technology. Seems like it would be a great methodology for Hollywood movies, where model planes must be built in duplicates because so many of them crash. Using 3D printing, it would seem like the Holywood producers could have a new model on the runway with its propeller spinning shortly after the first one crashes. Same goes for the aircraft industry: This would be a great way to build prototypes and test new concepts.

Beth Stackpole
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Blogger
Re: A solution for Hollywood
Beth Stackpole   8/29/2011 12:27:17 PM
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I think you're right on the money, Chuck. As you can see from this plane, it's no where near full size--more like a test model and I could definitely picture it as a stand-in for a Hollywood film clip.

As for using the technology to produce prototypes, I think there's huge potential there. Since as Ivan pointed out, building and designing aircraft wings are such a complex and highly intricate process, especially using composite materials, it would seem to me to be a great way to produce scale models very quickly and serve as a learning/exploratory exercise.

sensor pro
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Gold
Re: Wing Complexity
sensor pro   8/29/2011 12:54:34 PM
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I agree with your comments, however if we look at general issues like basic shape, wisnd behavior, regular stresses on the palane in a wind tunnel, then this type of prototyping can be very helpful. After main weak points are established, the actual design can begin. I think that 3-d printing is a super idea and will be more and more popular when the pricing is reduced.

David12345
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Platinum
3d Printed Plane
David12345   8/30/2011 11:36:08 AM
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Low stressed components such as interior panels may be a better fit; although, I don't know how the economics of 3D printing Nylon compares to an aluminum or oak low volume injection mold with ?ABS? 

Clearly, this appears to have a good niche for prototyping.  The structural strength, and UV durability, of Nylon is managable with a model plane. 

Of course, the loads are higher with full scale aircraft.  I am skeptical that this would be the best choice.  Even the wind loading of a tip, or other skin component over the airframe, may exceed the strength or toughness of an unfilled Nylon (particularly, after hygroscopic absorbsion in a hot wet tropic environment, or freezing in the sub-zero temperatures at altitude).  Those plastics would also require an opaque paint to protect them from UV degradation.

Hurf
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Iron
Complex 3d Printing
Hurf   8/30/2011 1:17:23 PM
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Some idle speculation about this encouraging technology still in its

infancy.

3D printing is moving into more complex materials such as

carbon fiber and metal deposition so we aren't conceptually limited

by nylon per se. There isn't much limit on the internal structure as the

printed object is built up, either.

Think of a helicopter blade, subject to relatively enormous dynamic stress.

Currently some are composed of stressed skin over a honeycomb structure that would be "easy" to print.   (Bees can do it (:-))

Doug Cook
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Iron
Re: Complex 3d Printing
Doug Cook   8/30/2011 3:43:44 PM
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Yes, the primary barriers to constructing human-scale aircraft prototypes are the build-chamber dimensions and material costs.  In 1997 my senior-design team designed and fabricated an electric, dual-rotor, ducted-fan engine for radio-control aircraft, using multiple additive-manufacturing technologies that our campus has in-house.  We even filled the photopolymer-fabricated rotors with carbon composite to improve their strength (there were limited AM materials at the time).  The only reason that we did not fabricate an entire plane then was the associated cost.  

It is unfortunate that these technologies are still "in their infancy" fourteen years later; but, with the institution of ASTM standards, they will certainly gain momentum.  As they do, prices will drop and larger machines will come online.

As for the potential to incorporate internal structures, that is a focus of our current research work.

Beth Stackpole
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Blogger
Re: 3d Printed Plane
Beth Stackpole   8/30/2011 5:08:53 PM
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I would be inclined to agree with David12345. There would have to be some serious advances in order to have a comfort level 3D printing a full-scale model of an aircraft wing. But given the way things are advancing, I'm not so sure that's out of the realm of possibility, and I absolutely think you are all right about the possibilities around prototyping.

SoCalPE
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Gold
Re: Complex 3d Printing
SoCalPE   8/30/2011 8:48:54 PM
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Yes, Bees can do it.  Nature still has many things to show us.  I am thinking along similar lines with regards to future integrated 3D manufacturing.  I can envision a new breed of 3D building machine that incorporates the FDM and/or SLS process along with laying in strands of resin coated carbon fibers to enhance strength via internal layers.

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