Faced with lengthy lead-times and costly design iterations, Latécoère – which services aerospace giants including Airbus, Bombardier and Dassault – is using its Stratasys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer for both rapid prototyping and production tooling. According to Simon Rieu, Composite and Additive Manufacturing Manager at Latécoère’s R&D and Innovation Center, the adoption of this technology has been transformational for both design and manufacturing.
“Additive manufacturing has integrated seamlessly into our design and production process, and has seen us enjoy improved lead-times, reduced costs and enhanced operational efficiency,” he says. “As the requirements of the aerospace industry become more demanding, we’re also mindful of the need to maintain our competitive edge, and Stratasys additive manufacturing enables us to meet that objective.”
Accelerating design validation
Traditionally, the company uses CNC machining for rapid prototyping, but this has presented limitations. “We recently produced a 3D printed prototype to verify the fit and function of a part for the interior lining of an aircraft door,” explains Rieu. “Previously, this would have been made from sheet metal – an often-time-consuming process. With our Fortus 450mc 3D Printer, we produced a fully functional prototype in two days, reducing our lead times by 95%. Crucially this has accelerated our design validation process before committing to costly and time-consuming tooling.”
Latécoère recently 3D printed a prototype camera case for the Airbus A380 aircraft for design validation with the camera’s internal parts housed inside. Prior to Stratasys FDM 3D additive manufacturing, the team would have had to directly manufacture an aluminum camera case for testing, with any design iterations proving costly. Using ULTEM 9085 material, the 3D printed prototype is also 50% lighter than its metal counterpart.
Enhancing production tooling
The company is also using its Fortus 450mc 3D Printer for the on-demand manufacture of custom production tools. This has reduced time and cost, and enhanced operator efficiency.
“Using metal sheet manufacturing, creating a tool can take up to six weeks. Now we can 3D print a tool in just two days and 50% lighter using ULTEM 9085 material,” says Rieu. “With our 3D printer, we can also optimize the geometry of the tool to perfectly fit the part – making the operator’s job easier. Not only has this accelerated our production process dramatically, but I also estimate that we’ve reduced our tool production costs by 40%.”
Final flight-ready 3D printed production parts
Looking ahead, Latécoère’s long-term strategy is to 3D print final production parts for next generation airplanes from the likes of Airbus, Boeing, and other leading aircraft manufacturers. Indeed, the company has already begun exploring the potential to use its Fortus 450mc to produce final interior aircraft parts with certification in mind. Using Stratasys’ tough, lightweight and FST compliant ULTEM 9085 material, the team has 3D printed various air duct housing components, which has seen significant weight reductions and time savings compared to traditional production methods.