I am excited to announce that today we are launching TechAloft.com, a new website focused on telling the stories at the leading edge of technology and aerospace. The site is part of our efforts to promote the $25K Sikorsky Entreprenuerial Challenge. We hope you’ll take a look.
Sikorsky Innovations is the founding sponsor of the Stamford Innovation Center. We’ve helped them for years in recruiting and evaluating the talented companies who have applied to the Entrepreneurial Challenge. The people who work at Sikorsky have been great to work with. Their passion for great technology and the value it provides is inspiring.
What’s new about the Entrepreneurial Challenge this year is that rather than focus on aerospace-specific problems, we’ve shifted our strategy to focus on important underlying technologies that will help Sikorsky leverage the best tech and engage with viable vendors whose technology has broad applicability across a wide array of industries. And we’ve built the TechAloft site as a way to participate in the dialog around these exciting industries.
Right now we are actively recruiting in four exciting tech sectors: IOT (Internet of Things), Augmented Reality, 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing and Energy Storage/Energy Management. We’ve met some great companies and awesome experts who are excited to get to know whether their products and solutions can improve current and future aircraft. They recognize that the answers to questions they will get from Sikorsky engineers will allow them to improve their business, their technology, or at a minimum the way they position their capabilities.
The value of this engagement for a young company with early technology cannot be overstated, and goes well beyond the $25K award that goes to the winner. As I’ve said many times recently, the award money is desert. The relationship with Sikorsky is dinner, and we hope to see many many hungry companies around the table.
Industry and military await the day that 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing can repair and replace parts in the farthest reaches of the world
If you’ve invested millions in advanced technology, you expect it to be available all the time. Any downtime is costly for a wide variety of reasons. That’s why companies that produce complex systems (automotive, aerospace and heavy industry) have huge investments in parts inventory so that they can provide their customers with replacements to get systems back up and running in the shortest time possible. But there is an emerging scenario that will allow manufacturers to better manage their inventory process and leverage Additive Manufacturing (AM) capabilities to reduce expense and improve flexibility. In this scenario, needed parts would be be produced via Additive Manufacturing techniques on an as-needed basis, in facilities a few hours travel away from the piece of equipment in need of repair. The oil industry is researching this “just-in-time” AM opportunity, as is the military, which covets the ability to fix machinery in the field. NASA has also successfully tested AM on the International Space Station.
Where additive manufacturing could save money and reduce risk
Drilling for oil above the Arctic Circle, maintaining heavy-use airplanes on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean, or replacing a defective part while circling the earth in the International Space Station are all examples of remote workplaces that stretch the common understanding of a supply chain.
That’s why the people in charge of supply chains and the associated economics are among the most fanatical proponents of additive manufacturing/3D printing.
The oil and gas industry, which is working in increasingly remote and hostile environments, views additive manufacturing as a proven technology — based on work being done in the aerospace and biomedical fields.
Components of a typical oil rig part include the mud pump, which has pistons and valves that need to be replaced every eight to 24 days. These commodity items are shipped from China. In a scenario envisioned in an article in “Today’s Energy Solutions” magazine, a small additive manufacturing operation could be set up in a shipping container to repair worn-out parts with materials that would last longer. Such a practice would reduce inventory and increase service life of the repaired parts.
A 3D printer has been tested on the International Space Station to show that it can work in micro gravity. The test machine used plastic, not metal, but is considered the first step toward realizing a machine shop in space, which would be critical for any Deep Space mission. The European Space Agency is also working on plans to build a lunar base using 3D printing.
On the seas
The U.S. Navy, which must contend with repair and replacement issues that constrict the ability to store large numbers of parts or to access new ones quickly from off-ship locations, views additive manufacturing as having the potential to transform Navy logistics and maintenance capabilities.
Here are some examples:
Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Rapid Prototype Lab is saving the Navy thousands of dollars on the Gerald R. Ford-class of aircraft carriers. Instead of traditional wood or metal mockups of ship alterations, which help to prevent expensive rework, the lab prints much cheaper plastic polymer models – in hours, rather than days or weeks. Now all four Navy shipyards have 3D printers working on similar, and other, ways to benefit the Navy.
The Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southeast took advantage of the ability to work with more complicated designs and unique material properties to develop an enhanced hydraulic intake manifold for the V-22 Osprey. This manifold is 70 percent lighter, improves fluid flow, and has fewer leak points than its traditionally manufactured counterpart.
The circuit card clip for J-6000 Tactical Support System Servers, installed onboard Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines and Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines is no longer produced by its original manufacturer. Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport uses additive manufacturing to create a supply of replacement parts to keep the fleet ready.
Challenges to reaching the next level
The technology is not yet advanced enough to accomplish some of the most imaginative and coveted tasks – providing quick repairs to allow marooned military fighters to fix a plane, helicopter or similar machine and get out of harm’s way or improve combat readiness.
But with military aircraft now operating for more years than originally designed, parts that were not expected to be replaced are failing. For the military, shipping electrons rather than raw materials is very appealing. Even in normal, non-combat circumstances, the future of AM offers the military ways to save money and time.
The challenges to achieving everything that can be imagined by engineers and scientists who want to build nearly anything they need through AM techniques are still basic. Dr. Ranier Hebert is director of the The Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at the University of Connecticut. He is investigating the physics of additive manufacturing. AM is still a relatively young process compared to traditional manufacturing, and there are questions about whether results can be duplicated from machine to machine or how different materials react under similar circumstances and at different temperatures. Those are the answers Hebert and his lab are seeking.
“It’s the type of data you can’t look up in the literature,” Hebert said. “But the advanced measurement modeling and simulation we are doing will speed up development.”
Developing ways to gain this information is critical for the day to arrive when parts can be repaired anywhere from the tundra, to the deck of a ship or even in outer space. “If we have a part spinning at 70,000 rpm and the tolerance is off,” Hebert said, “the engine will blow up. The tolerances are not yet what we need them to be.”
Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing is the Future, but There’s a Catch
There are many benefits to the eventual widespread use of 3D printing and other Additive Manufacturing (AM) techniques. But components, parts, and tools created through the printing of metal and other high value substances are unlikely to gain widespread commercial acceptance within aerospace or other manufacturing categories without proven NDT (nondestructive testing) testing techniques.
Nondestructive Testing (NDT) During Manufacturing is a Goal
The aerospace industry’s goal is to conduct non-destructive tests during the additive process, almost particle by particle. Such processes would not only help manufacturers spot flaws, but would open the possibility that they could correct imperfections before finishing parts. This may require the industry to develop different testing for the various forms of additive manufacturing, which include melting raw materials with lasers or electron beams, or building layers of small particles into detailed patterns, many of which are only achievable using AM techniques.
Materials and Product Testing is an Established Field
Testing has long been an integral part of manufacturing, from the raw materials that manufacturers shape in a forge to the blanks that they might turn on a lathe, to the final products that workers measure and check for flaws. Many ingenious methods exist for looking inside both components and finished products, including liquid penetration, industrial radiography and electromagnetics.
While manufacturers might also apply some of these testing methods to AM, products produced via 3D printing are often too complicated to see inside with clarity, even with X-rays or electromagnetic tools. More importantly, workers can’t take the products apart for repair if something is wrong. Current testing protocols call for operators to dismember a percentage of each batch of any item so they can identify flaws in the process. But this method doesn’t guarantee that the other pieces in the batch are free of imperfections. The good news is that when NDT verification of 3D printed parts is finally ready for prime-time, manufacturers will have decades of data and best practices to leverage for benchmarking purposes.
Sikorsky Innovations is Looking for New Verification Techniques for 3D Printed Materials
Sikorsky Innovations is one of the global R&D groups focused on developing a robust approach to testing the output of 3D Manufacturing/Additive Manufacturing processes. “Additive Manufacturing will be restricted to a minor role in aerospace manufacturing until new verification techniques are developed,” according to Bill Harris, a Technical Fellow with Sikorsky Aircraft,.”As we get more and more product produced this way, you’ll need more innovative ways to test and validate product,” he said. “The time to start making this investment is now.”
As part of the 6th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge, the company has made a statement on the types of technologies they are looking for on the path to mission critical 3d printing/Additive Manufacturing. Specifically, the challenge calls for: “Aerospace quality additive manufacturing of complex geometry with real time inspection.”
Please share your Nondestructive Testing Tech and Ideas
ABOUT STAMFORD INNOVATION CENTER AND THE SIKORSKY ENTREPRENEURIAL CHALLENGE:
Stamford Innovation Center is working closely with Sikorsky Innovations to drive awareness and identify great ideas for submission to the 6th Sikorsky EChallenge. The current challenge is focused on uncovering companies that can provide leading edge thinking and products in critical new areas of technology including Additive Manufacturing, Augmented Reality, Sensors, and Energy Storage/Management. For more information, visit www.sikorsky.com/echallenge.
3D Printing has the potential to reshape manufacturing by lowering costs and shortening the amount of time it takes to make complex parts. Much of the progress at the high end is being driven by the aerospace industry.
The precision and robust approach to testing required for success in aerospace will once again provide benefits for other industries as they get to work with vendors who have survived the experience of having their work pushed to the limit by aerospace engineers.
What is 3D Printing?
The 3D printing technique (also called Additive Manufacturing) builds parts by melting a metal or plastic and applying it one layer at a time. Extremely complex parts can be constructed in less time, and at lower weight, than it takes in traditional manufacturing, which might forge parts or cut them out of blocks of material. Replacement parts can be built when needed and new designs can be put into place with less prototyping.
What is the Most Ambitious 3D Printing Project?
Additive Manufacturing techniques are now being applied to nearly every field of manufacturing and repair. A 3D printed car even made the cover of Popular Mechanics last month, and there is definitely a pop-star type of glow around the concept. The University of Connecticut is building the Pratt and Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at its Storrs campus. GE is investing $125 million in a plant in Alabama devoted to 3D printing. And several governmental and business organizations are encouraging inventors to push the technology.
One of them is Sikorsky Aircraft, which is looking for technology from small and large teams around the world to submit 3D Printing technology ideas to Sikorsky Innovations’ 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge. Learn more about the Sikorsky Innovation Challenge and how you might compete for $25,000 in no-strings-attached funding.
So What’s the biggest Hurdle for Mission Critical 3D Printing?
But 3D printing faces obstacles before it fulfills the promise many industrial experts expect of it, with the largest probably being finding a way to test complex printed parts to ensure they meet all the specifications.
How Do You Test a Complicated 3D Printed Part?
The ideal testing concept is called non-destructive testing, or NDT, which finds flaws with X-rays or other methods of figuring out what is inside the object without cutting it open. Many items created by 3D printing are extremely complex; if traditionally manufactured they would contain two dozen separate pieces. Non-destructive testing, however, is not yet advanced enough.
Greg Morris, manager of additive manufacturing and business development at GE Aviation, acknowledged that the industry still faces many challenges in finding, preventing and correcting defects in AM products. Morris said last year at the Propulsion and Energy Forum of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics that, “right now, inspection processes account for 25 percent of the total cost of parts produced additively.” Those costs, he said, must come down before the technology can gain wider acceptance.
Many experts, though, are optimistic about the future of 3D printing.. Terry Wohlers, a long-time consultant in 3D printing, pointed out that the technology has already made dramatic progress. In his newsletter, (title of newsletter and link) Wohlers said that additive manufacturing was once considered only for the creation of models, prototypes and patterns. Today, however, manufacturers like Boeing use 3D printing to produce complex environmental control ducting for military and commercial jets, significantly reducing inventory, labor, weight and maintenance.
“Given what I am seeing, I believe that AM will eventually have a greater breadth of impact on the production of products than any manufacturing technology in recent history,” Wohlers wrote.
When Do I Get to 3D Print a Car?
Which brings us back to the printed car given such prominent space by Popular Mechanics. It was made by a Phoenix-based company called Local Motors, which describes itself as a “technology company that designs, builds, and sells badass vehicles.” The car design featured in the magazine is called the Strati and was built out of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
As Troy Stains of Popular Mechanics wrote, “Developing countries would love this technology for cheap transportation, but so might the rich guy who wants a thousand-horsepower car of his own design, printed in a production run of one. Or the carmaker that wants to churn out a complete car in ten hours rather than 24, using a fraction of the components. Modern cars are complicated, but the union of 3D printing and electric propulsion — where the motor has just one moving part — points to a future in which that’s no longer a given.”
The U.S. Government wants Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing to Advance.
That kind of look toward the future is shared with government and business organizations alike. The U.S. Navy, in a request for proposal earlier this year, endorsed the potential of 3D printing. The technique, the Navy wrote,” is of wide interest across many industries and throughout the world …. This technology is expected to be of interest to many commercial industries, including aerospace, automotive, and medical.”