One of the lesser recognized, but important uses of additive manufacturing is in the development of tools for manufacturing. This application is critical for the airline industry where flight delays cost money.
One company, Satair, an Airbus services company, wanted to expedite aircraft maintenance through on-demand tools manufacturing. The company serves customers in the global aerospace value chain, delivering parts management, distribution, and support solutions.
A goal of Satair is to reduce flight delays by transforming the speed and sustainability of aircraft maintenance tool delivery. It envisions a world with fewer flight delays, faster travel and the highest standards of safety. So, the design team turned to Fast Radius to help with tool development.
In a traditional maintenance process, an airline or maintenance repair and overhaul organization (MRO) can sometimes wait up to several weeks for a new, conventionally manufactured maintenance tool. This wouldn’t normally be an issue, but sometimes tools are needed more quickly than anticipated.
Satair wanted to expedite Airbus aircraft maintenance by significantly reducing the lead time for delivery of the necessary tools while also exploring potential ways of reducing resource and material waste along the way.
To meet these goals, the Fast Radius team recommended a multi-process approach that included both additive manufacturing processes using the HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer and traditional ones using CNC machining to give Satair the best price, reduce the total part numbers in the bill of materials (BOM), improve design robustness, and enable the integration of new functions.
During the project, the two teams collaborated on ways to redesign and improve selected aircraft maintenance tools to ensure manufacturability with additive technology. The teams worked closely to create new geometries for the tools that reduced material usage and improved function. They achieved new efficiencies through assembly consolidation, lightweighting, and unique design architectures made possible only with additive manufacturing. The teams used rapid prototyping with production-grade technologies and a combination of digital simulation and physical testing to quickly iterate and refine the designs.
Fast Radius used the HP Jet Fusion 580 Color 3D Printer to print Satair tools in full color, which improves safety by ensuring that tools are not left behind after use. Color also introduces new ways to convey information, such as company logos, part numbers, serial numbers or even scannable QR codes printed directly on to the tool. Because of the harsh environments these tools would need to endure, the material selected was HP 3D High Reusability PA 12 — an engineering-grade thermoplastic with excellent chemical resistance to oils, greases, aliphatic hydrocarbons and alkalies.
Satair operates at the highest level of safety and security, so any product or supply chain changes need to maintain that standard. For example, in addition to its existing AS9100 certification for aerospace quality, Fast Radius implemented a rigorous production part approval process to ensure the company sent consistent, quality parts to Satair. Fast Radius developed ongoing control plans for each tool and implemented a continuous improvement plan to ensure that the parts continue to meet rigid aviation standards.
While additive manufacturing proved a good solution for making tools faster, another part of the challenge involved speeding up logistics. New tools in digital manufacturing and additive technology are blurring the lines between manufacturing and logistics, making faster, more sustainable turnaround times possible. One of them is the Fast Radius Virtual Warehouse.
This Virtual Warehouse stores digital part files in the cloud, potentially allowing for the production of products on-demand, whenever and wherever they are needed. By matching need with supply, the Virtual Warehouse prevents waste and reduces materials usage.
Over the course of this project, Fast Radius manufactured, inspected, packaged, shipped and fulfilled two complete tools in under 48 hours. The pilot hinged on Fast Radius’s logistics partnership with UPS, which allowed the team to ship parts from its factory in Chicago to Satair’s distribution facilities in Hamburg, Germany in less than 48 hours from receipt of order to delivery.
Satair and Fast Radius are in the early days of exploring what’s possible with the Virtual Warehouse, enabled by HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology and a logistics partnership with UPS for the delivery of parts produced during the pilot. So far, outcomes from this program point towards a bright future where Satair will deliver world-class innovative solutions to its aircraft maintenance customers. Satair and Fast Radius are investigating further ways of working together to redesign more tools with additive manufacturing.