Dale, Indiana-based Thermwood Corp. is offering a line of additive manufacturing systems for the production of large to very large reinforced thermoplastic composite parts. Thermwood’s large scale additive manufacturing (LSAM) machine line uses a two-step, near-net-shape production process.

First the part is 3D printed, layer by layer, to slightly larger than the final size, then it is trimmed to its exact final size and shape using a CNC router. The process operates in free space and does not require molds or tooling.

Thermwood’s LSAM is targeted for the production of tooling, masters, molds, fixtures, patterns, and plugs for aerospace and other industries. For tooling, the benefits include substantially lower cost and a shorter build cycle.

High wall, overhead gantry LSAM machines feature a 10ft x 5ft work envelope. Length of the work envelope can be as short as 10ft or longer than 100ft. LSAM systems include a print gantry and a 5-axis trim gantry, both operating across the entire table surface to make parts on the same machine.

The print gantry features a vertically-mounted PH15 print head that melts and precisely meters the polymer bead. It can process filled thermoplastic composite materials at up to 650°F at rates up to 150 lb/hr.

The trim gantry 5-axis CNC router is equipped with a 12hp (3,000rpm to 24,000rpm) spindle and a 10-position automatic tool changer. The machine uses Siemens Intelligent Servo Drives for printing and trimming.

“We are at the beginning of what appears to be a revolution in manufacturing, and we look forward to the new challenges and incredible possibilities that this type of transformational change brings,” says Thermwood founder and CEO Ken Susnjara. www.thermwood.com

US Air Force researching advanced manufacturing for replacement parts

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, has awarded a $10 million research project for refining the efficiency of Air Force aircraft part replacements to the America Makes-National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in Youngstown, Ohio. This will be the first project under a five-year cooperative agreement between AFRL and America Makes.

“The goal of this Directed Project Opportunity is to improve the efficiency of Air Force air logistics complexes in rapidly replacing parts for legacy and other military aircraft by developing, demonstrating, and guiding the transition to the use of additive manufacturing and other types of related advanced manufacturing technology,” says Dr. Dennis Butcher, the America Makes program manager.

The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) will be the principal research leader on the project, while Youngstown State University will be the co-leader of the technical efforts.

America Makes has awarded $8 million in AFRL-managed funds through the cooperative agreement from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Manufacturing and Industrial Base Technology Division. An additional $2.87 million in matching costs has been contributed by the award project team for a total of $10.87 million in research project funding. Both universities are sharing the funding equally throughout the project.

To deal with challenges related to the sustainment of its fleet of aircraft, aircraft support vehicles, and machinery, this project will focus on additive manufacturing and related advanced manufacturing techniques such as reverse engineering tools, 3D scanners, computer-aided design software, and non-destructive evaluation systems.

“One of the biggest hurdles to maintaining legacy aircraft is securing out-of-production spare parts,” says Brian Rice, the head of UDRI’s multi-scale composites and polymers division. “In some cases, suppliers have gone out of business, or they will no longer support the production of spare parts for older aircraft. It’s just not profitable for them.”

Additive manufacturing can be used to print actual spare parts as needed, or it can be used to create very large tooling and molds to be used in traditional forms of manufacturing. www.af.mil; www.americamakes.us

Lincoln Electric’s Wolf Robotics advances metal additive manufacturing

Wolf Robotics, a Lincoln Electric Co., is paving the road for advancements in robotic big area additive manufacturing (R-BAAM). Company officials say this effort will help move metal additive manufacturing out of the traditional, small-area, bed-built processes and will expand build envelopes for robotically printing metal parts.

The multi-meter build envelope, multi-feedstock, and multi-material robotic additive system features a laser powder and laser hot-wire process for steel and titanium. www.lincolnelectric.com

GE Aviation to use additive manufacturing for Improved Turbine Engine Program

Part of the U.S. Army’s award of a $102 million, 24-month contract to GE Aviation will go toward substantiating additive manufacturing (AM) in the GE3000, a 3,000shp turboshaft engine for the Army’s Black Hawk and Apache helicopters Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP). The contract leads to a preliminary design review (PDR) of the engine, after which the Army plans to select a single supplier to complete the development and qualification of the ITEP engine.

GE is expanding AM production capability at its Auburn, Alabama, facility. In 2014, GE announced it would invest $50 million in the existing 300,000ft2 facility to prepare for the additional additive work. Upon completion, GE’s investments in Auburn will total more than $125 million since 2011, creating more than 300 jobs. www.geaviation.com

Official measurement of the 3D printed trim tool co-developed by ORNL and Boeing exceeded the size required to achieve the Guinness World Records title of largest solid 3D printed item.

3D printed tool for building aircraft achieves Guinness World Records title

Developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a 3D printed trim-and-drill tool to be evaluated at the Boeing Co. has received the title of largest solid 3D printed item by Guinness World Records.

ORNL printed the lower cost trim tool in 30 hours using carbon fiber and ABS thermoplastic composite materials, which will be tested in building the Boeing 777X passenger jet. At 17.5ft x 5.5ft x 1.5ft, the 3D printed structure weighs approximately 1,650 lb.

“The existing, more-expensive metallic tooling option we currently use typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques,” says Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials. “Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labor, and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.”

Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric measured the trim tool, proved it exceeded the required minimum of 0.3m3, or approximately 10.6ft3, and announced the new record title.

After ORNL completes verification testing, Boeing plans to test the additively manufactured trim-and-drill tool in the company’s new production facility in St. Louis. The tool will be used to secure the 777X’s composite wing skin for drilling and machining before assembly. www.ornl.gov