Stratasys Ltd. (Nasdaq:SSYS), a global leader in applied additive technology solutions, announced that Spanish aerospace and engineering company, Indaero, has secured new business with several Tier 1 and Tier 2 Airbus suppliers following the use of Stratasys FDM 3D printing for the production of complex tools.
Spanish aerospace engineering and production specialist, Indaero, manufactures aircraft panels for key customers such as Airbus and its suppliers, offering a comprehensive range of services including design, engineering, tooling, welding and painting. With much of the competition limited to only a few services, the company invested in a Stratasys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer. The move has enabled Indaero to extend its offering into lightweight, complex tools that cannot be produced with traditional manufacturing, further differentiating itself as an end-to-end design to production service.
“Aerospace is unlike other industries, producing high volumes of tools,” explains Darío González Fernández, CEO of Indaero. “To traditionally manufacture production tools, injection molding or CNC machining would be used, but this would be very time-consuming and costly. With our Fortus 450mc 3D Printer, we can service low-volume production quickly and cost-effectively, pro ducing many different tools on-demand to accelerate the manufacturing process and ensure we meet customer delivery deadlines.
“The importance of the ULTEM 9085 material cannot be understated either,” he continues. “It has become an integral part of our production process, as it is certified for aerospace and well known by our customer Airbus for a number of aircraft applications. With its unique combination of high strength-to-weight ratio and FST (flame, smoke, and toxicity) certification, we can 3D print robust, lightweight tools and respond to short run production of flying parts if required – giving us a unique advantage versus competition.”
Complex ‘curved’ 3D printed tooling leads to increased business
The Fortus 450mc 3D Printer is used by Indaero to manufacture several production tools. Crucial to achieving this is the ability to quickly design and produce complex curved geometries that perfectly fit the intricate shapes of the aircraft panels. Previously, the company was limited to producing flat shapes with traditional methods, which affected the performance of the final tool during affixation to the panel by workers.
“The 3D printer has been a game-changer for us,” says González. “The ability to 3D print curved production tools in robust materials made us realize the importance of having tools that perfectly fit the panels. Not only does it make the work of our operators much easier, it frees up resources and increases our overall productivity. This improvement was immediately recognized by a number of leading Airbus providers such as Aernnova, who previously worked with our competitors and whose business we have subsequently secured.”
This is being exemplified through the company‘s work for Aernnova where the Fortus 450mc 3D Printer is being used to optimize a series of production tools for the manufacture of an Airbus NH90 Helicopter. In particular, a 3D printed manufacturing tool to fix a slide box onto the interior panel of the helicopter wing. Traditionally, an aluminum tool weighed twelve kilos and required two operators to hold it against the panel while marking the drill holes. With the complex geometries achievable with 3D printing, the team redesigned the tool with a curvature perfectly fitting the panel structure. As a result, Indaero provided Aernnova with a new, more effective tool, nine kilos lighter than its predecessor and capable of standing on its own.
“Integrating FDM 3D printing within production tooling for this project is delivering several clear benefits,” explains González. “Firstly, from a resource perspective there’s now no need for two operators as the tool fits against the panel independently – leaving one operator to position the slide box with both free hands. Secondly, we can produce a lightweight and robust tool 66% faster than with CNC machining. As a result, this part of the project is being completed ahead of time, leading to a reduction in manufacturing cost of over 50%. The customer response has been fantastic.”
Andy Middleton, President EMEA, Stratasys, concludes: “FDM has long been an additive technology of choice for the aerospace industry, particularly for customized tooling applications. Companies such as Indaero are leveraging high-performance materials, such as ULTEM 9085, to produce lighter weight, better performing tools on the production floor in less time and cost. It’s no surprise that these future-ready companies are improving business performance as a result.”