Commercial planes take years to hit the market, following painstaking design processes and rigorous quality checks: so rigorous that the plane is likely to be in good flying condition for 25 to 30 years. But that doesn’t mean the aircraft stays unchanged throughout its lifespan: you don’t really want a plane to look or act its age. 328 Support Services now handles the maintenance, modification and refurbishment of the Do328 fleet which once was produced by Fairchild Dornier. In preparation to re-launch the serial production of this aircraft type, Supply Chain and Engineering at 328 are in a constant process of streamlining manufacturing processes and identifying cost drivers. And to make plastic parts lighter, cheaper, and faster to produce, they rely on Materialise’s Certified Additive Manufacturing.
Choosing Additive Manufacturing: What 328 Was Looking For
By the nature of parts for the aftermarket, the production series for 328 are often very short. This makes conventional manufacturing methods like injection molding unnecessarily expensive, and large stock unnecessarily wasteful. Additive Manufacturing could easily handle this problem thanks to the limited set-up costs and short production cycles. “3D Printing lets us pick parts from a virtual shelf,” says Volker Liedloff, Team Leader Interior Engineering at 328 Design. “We would no longer run the risk of produced spare parts becoming obsolete too soon or of keeping tools for parts with very low demand.”
328 was also looking for a change in material: they had been producing also small parts in phenolic resin laminate but were looking to make the switch to something more cost efficient. On both accounts—profitable short production series and light material—Additive Manufacturing was the way ahead.
“In an industry where a grounded plane costs thousands of euros every day, time really is money. When 328 needed a part on very short notice, we were able to produce it within the week.”
Steffen Kuhn, Materialise
After receiving the part design from 328, engineers at Materialise run checks for 3D printability and inspecting values like wall thicknesses. The parts are then laser-sintered at Materialise in a flame-retardant polyamide material. Each of the steps follows strict regulations in line with aerospace certifications, and culminates in production-certified 3D-printed parts that are ready to be installed in a plane.
Additive Manufacturing: What Makes It Better?
Possibly the most commonly stated benefit of Additive Manufacturing is the freedom of design and innovative engineering. But as the collaboration with 328 demonstrates, the comparative advantage of Additive Manufacturing is clear even for relatively standard and straightforward parts. 328 presents Materialise with a design which is already certified for aeronautic applications, and cannot be altered beyond this stage without going through a re-certification process. Instead of the usual design improvements, 3D Printing here is used for its reliable, cost-efficient and timely production.
For reliability and quality assurance, every production run has to be exactingly consistent and traceable. Materialise Streamics ensures a transparent software overview of the production process, while the Materialise Control Platform provides hardware control over laser-based machines and ensures highly nuanced fine-tuning of the printers’ settings. “Parts produced for the aerospace industry have to conform to very strict standards: and that’s where Materialise’s certified manufacturing comes in,” says Steffen. “Materialise holds certifications EN9100 and EASA.21G that qualify us to manufacture end-use parts for the aeronautics and aerospace industries, and that makes the Certified Additive Manufacturing process the perfect fit for 328.
Additive Manufacturing in the Aerospace Industry
In a never-ending search for lighter and more durable components, the aeronautics and aerospace industry is a true driver for state-of-the-art engineering and reliable manufacturing technologies. Materialise Manufacturing offers cost-effective solutions for rapid prototyping as well as manufacturing of end-use components, through our Certified Additive Manufacturing process backed by certifications EN9100 and EASA.21G.