Collins Aerospace sees a growing acceptance and "change in mindset" in the direction of additive manufacturing and investigates possibilities for three-dimensional printing in all its business activities. The former UTC Aerospace organization had set up a centralized team to promote the use of additive production in the various business units through education, development and training. Under the leadership of Paula Hay, director of additive design and production, that effort has now shifted to the coordination to coordinate the expertise between the combined Collins and UTAS groups under Collins Aerospace.
"We are a very holistic organization," Hay said. Her team coordinates not only with her various companies about possibilities for additives, but also with parent UTC about shared lessons and opportunities.
"If we look at additive, we have no shortage of opportunities," she said. "It crosses all individual business units … from big things to small things, from simple brackets to complicated heat exchangers, we really have the whole range."
Additive production "offers you a wide range of opportunities, literally, the air is the limit," she added.
The centralized team is preparing to bring a number of new products to the market this year, she said. By the end of last year, it had the first few in production. The first one on the way to the flight was a plastic that surrounded illuminated signs in aircraft cabins. "We want to speed up and get that [new additive products] flight in the next year, "said Hay." Our real goal is to move this from a technological development arena to an arena for technological adoption.
The team works on product development, so projects can then move to the various business sectors for production. "We do a lot of training and teaching," she said, including sharing expertise between the groups.
This includes searching parts in the business units to see which can be better served by additives, which are better produced through traditional means and which new parts can be developed to serve the same or new purposes.
There is not always value in drop-in replacements, that is, producing a similar component that is already in production with a similar additive approach, Hay said. "You do not really use what additives can do." But if you can replace multiple parts with a single part or add a new product, there is a lot more potential.
The team investigated different types of materials, initially with polymers, before going to metals such as Inconel alloys and titanium. Aluminum was originally a less viable material for additive production. But the industry has recently discovered aluminum that is more weldable for the additive process, she said.
"Actually, we can make parts that are just as good or better than the aluminum parts of today," she said. "We find that sometimes we can turn over materials, there are some suppliers of powders and other people in research / academia who work on some powders that we keep an eye on."
As such, the company increased the capacity of its metal printing capabilities, ranging from two machines in mid-2017 to six that are currently used for metals.
The team strives to first view the simpler, simpler parts. "You do not want your very first part to be your most complicated part," she said, because if the part becomes too complicated, it could cast doubt on the value of the additive. "We try to balance and get [the groups] learn about a few more basic parts – things like a bracket or simple flap – and let them move to the bigger one. For us it really is about using the learning that we get, than about training and obtaining information to benefit the rest of the companies. "
She said that these efforts have changed into a community & # 39; that has grown exponentially. At the beginning of 2018 the community had only a handful of people who participated. "We now have almost 100," she said. These are people who are interested in technology, or have a project or information they want to share.
"We discovered that there really was a passion," she added, especially with engineers and those involved in information technology. "It has grown because people learn and see the potential of additives, it is growing very fast."
Hay sees five important benefits of additives. The first is weight saving, because of the possibility to exchange materials, only use the material you need or a reduction in the number of parts. "We have seen a weight saving of 50 percent."
In short, eliminating the number of components is another big advantage, she said. A part that requires more than 100 parts may be reduced to 20 or 30. If you remove parts and make them in one piece, you can remove failure modes. You take away fasteners and welding, things that can fail. So you tend to better quality. "
Turnaround savings on development are another important benefit. "Turnaround time can be enormous, we have significantly shortened time, so if you can produce a component in six days instead of six weeks, it will be a big deal." In development it is just as important because in traditional production everything is perfect must be in place before the part is manufactured. Now the design can be changed with additive. "You may be able to reverse the design iterations and optimize in the same amount of time."
Another significant advantage is the freedom of design. Hay noted that the group has recently experimented with a new design of the heat exchanger. "It looked a bit like a heart," she said, adding that designers can go in a large number of directions instead of staying in a box. "You can create designs that you could not have thought of before for traditional production, it really opens up the design space for our companies," Hay said. The fifth advantage is cost savings, which can be significant. "Again, we've seen something from 10 percent to 50 percent," she said.
These benefits can bring a trade-off, Hay added. Sometimes additive leads to fixed costs, but improves weight. "Very rarely you get all five attributes, but you can exchange and decide what you want," she said.
While the company responds with additives, Hay admits that there are a number of obstacles, particularly in the area of regulation. Although approval of parts takes place, the approval process is "still in its infancy." The FAA and EASA certify individual parts, but "they do not yet have a full set of requirements." Bringing products to the market requires extensive reviews, she said. "A lot of data is being looked at, and then they ask a lot of questions, after which they look a bit more at the data." Approval is done on the basis of a part.
"This is a new technology that we have to work through," she said. "As people become more comfortable and more data becomes available, the process of streamlining will be much faster."
The FAA realizes this, she said, noting that the agency has a roadmap to develop a more standardized process. "Everyone is on board with what needs to be done," she said. "We just need enough hard data experience to make people comfortable."
For a supplier, most products are certified by the customers. "They ultimately have the responsibility of the FAA," Hay said. "However, we do not want to leave that to them, we try to learn as much as possible so that when we do ours [part]… it meets everyone's requirements. "
But in general there is a growing awareness and acceptance of additive manufacturing. "I think we're seeing that in the whole airline industry as well," added Hay, noting that large OEMs such as Airbus and Boeing have additional parts.
"Our customers are very interested," she said and commented that even UTC chairman Greg Hayes is asked about this at analysts' meetings. This has been filtered throughout the company. "I think we really have a buy-in and they are very supportive."
Hay sees a huge opportunity for the future of additives. "Will additive become the norm in the next three years? Probably not, but I'll bet in 10 years and you ask & # 39; when did that happen? & # 39;"