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BAE Systems reports production of titanium spar for wing using additive layer manufacturing

In December, BAE Systems in the UK reported the production of one of the largest 3D printed metal parts to be made in the UK, a long titanium spar section for an aircraft wing. The part, measuring 1.2m in length was produced in 37 hours from digital model to a complete 3 dimensional part.

The part is the result of a research project led by Cranfield University to develop processes for the manufacture of large structural parts using the 3D printing process, otherwise known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM).

The large titanium component, known in the industry as a spar section was designed by BAE Systems engineers in Lancashire. It sits longitudinally to form part of an aircraft wing structure. The design was a generic one, having features representative of a typical spar section on a military aircraft. Manufacture of the part took place at Cranfield University using a specific kind of 3D printing known as the Wire and Arc Additive Manufacture (WAAM) process.

Mark Potter, a member of the ALM team at BAE Systems with long titanium spar section. Click to enlarge.

What we’ve been able to demonstrate from this project is that we have the ability to manufacture titanium parts on this scale. The next stage is to continue working together to produce more parts and to develop a robust set of processes so that we can take this technology and apply it safely and seamlessly into the aerospace industry.

—Matt Stevens, BAE Systems engineering lead

There are several benefits to producing parts this way, cutting costs and saving time being two of the key ones. To date, BAE has already flown a number of flight-cleared 3D printed non-metallic parts made out of materials such as ULTEM and Polyamide12.

At RAF Marham, where the Tornado squadron is based, BAE Systems has helped to install the capability to produce protective covers for Tornado cockpit radios, support struts for working on air intake doors and protective guards for PTL shafts. The protective covers are made through 3D printing in a day for less than £100 (US$164) each, meaning savings to date of £300,000 (US$492,000) with a projected four-year reduction in manufacturing costs of £1.2 million (US$2 million). A replica repair plate, guaranteed in its accuracy, can be turned round in a day, as opposed to nearer a month.



Eventually, additive 3D layer manufacturing may be able to produce complex light weight vehicle bodies and parts, on a 24/7 basis, with very little human contribution.

The materials required may be fed, via pipelines, from adjacent or integrated automated factories.

Lower initial speed may be compensated with more machines operating 24/7.

Of course, space and aeronautic industries will support the initial development cost.

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