Metro Aerospace Introduces 3D Printed Part for Fuel Efficiency in Aerospace

SLS 3D printed aerospace parts can provide a fuel savings of 4% at
cruise with improved aerodynamics and reduced drag

In the aerospace industry, the
slightest design improvement can have a staggering impact on the efficiency of
flight, which is why aerospace manufacturers dedicate tremendous time and
talent to advanced engineering. Sometimes small modifications pay off big time,
as is the case with the new 3D printed microvanes, a drag-reduction and
performance enhancement technology recently commercialised by Texas
minority-owned business Metro Aerospace. Developed for the C-130/L-100
aircraft, the microvanes are adhesively fastened on both sides of an aircraft’s
fuselage and designed to reduce drag by reshaping airflow around the aft cargo
door.

3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team helped Metro Aerospace take the microvanes from a prototype
into a production part with uncommon speed. Offering production support at any
stage of product development, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts
deliver quick, high quality parts ranging from fast turn and advanced
prototypes to appearance models and low volume production. Using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
and DuraForm¨ GF, a glass-filled nylon, 3D Systems’ On Demand team in Tulsa, OK, worked
closely with Metro Aerospace to successfully complete a first article
inspection report. This validated that all manufacturing requirements and part
specifications were executed exactly as prescribed on qualified SLS machines.

3D printed part reduces drag, introduces savings

Delivered in ship sets of 20,
the 3D printed microvanes are each about 10 inches long with each one
different. According to Metro Aerospace, these additively manufactured and
carefully engineered attachments can reduce total drag by approximately 15
points. The company further indicates that the simple incorporation of these
structures can lower fuel consumption by approximately 25 to 30 gallons per
hour while also providing significant reduction on inboard engine wear. Though
micro in size and name, this is a major impact for such a minor modification.

For commercial aircraft, the SLS
printed microvanes mean a desirable improvement in fuel economy, and for
military aircraft they provide the added benefit of extended time on mission
and additional payload capacity, tremendous advantages to each respective use.
The microvanes can be installed on new aircraft or easily retrofitted on
existing without any structural modifications and produce no operational impact,
apart from the desired drag reduction.

Leslie Peters, President and CEO
of Metro Aerospace, says purchase and installation of the microvanes can
deliver a return on investment in under a year based on achievable fuel
savings.

Combined with this rapid ROI,
the ease of installation and minimal aircraft downtime make the microvanes an
incredibly cost effective improvement to large cargo aircraft. For Metro
Aerospace, using 3D printing for production and working with 3D Systems’ On
Demand Manufacturing team has enabled a compelling business model to free the
start up from stocking parts while still enabling quick and high quality order fulfilment.

3D printing expertise for production confidence

Metro Aerospace chose 3D Systems
as its on demand manufacturing partner based on the company’s expertise and
leading technology in the additive manufacturing space as well as with the
microvanes themselves.

“Additive manufacturing is
fairly new, and it’s very new in aerospace for high volume exterior aircraft
components,” says Peters. In order to quickly transition the microvane from a
prototype to production part, Metro Aerospace relied on 3D Systems’ familiarity
with the aerospace industry and exposure to the microvane design that it
gathered from working through the prototyping phase.

Peters is quick to point out
that transitioning from a prototype to a final product is not always
straightforward, especially in the aerospace industry. “Going from prototyping
to production is not as easy as people think,” she says. “It’s not just
turnkey. There’s a lot more involved.”

The final 3D printed microvanes
had to meet all of the rigorous standards outlined by the engineers who
designed them, as well as undergo a first article inspection and report (FAIR)
with thorough documentation, as is commonplace in the aerospace industry. 3D
Systems and Metro Aerospace worked closely throughout the process to ensure
that every detail was minded and met with full attention and care, starting
with printer qualification and material testing through to part labelling,
finishing and shipping. The two companies also partnered to meticulously record
a process control document and verification to satisfy the stringent
requirements of delivering a new product within such a highly regulated space.

According to Peters, the speed
at which everything was achieved by working with 3D Systems was exceptional.
“Sometimes a FAIR will take six months alone before you can even start your
manufacturing, but within three to four months we were approved and shipping
product for a foreign military,” she says. “In terms of speed to market in
aerospace, that’s very, very fast.”

Proven experience in aerospace

3D Systems brought a high level
of experience and qualifications to the table to make production 3D printing
possible within a tight timeframe. ITAR and AS9100 certified, 3D Systems’ On
Demand Manufacturing facility in Tulsa, OK, had proven through its high quality
prototyping work that it could also be confidently trusted to deliver an
accurate final product at production volumes.

Producing quality aerospace
parts is an involved undertaking using any manufacturing technique, and 3D
printing is no different. 3D Systems’ team worked closely with Metro Aerospace
to qualify the SLS production machines, conduct tensile and density testing on
the material both in-house and through a third party, and follow the microvane
finishing protocol to the letter. 3D Systems ticked all the boxes for Metro
Aerospace to get off the ground successfully. “You need special equipment, you
need special rooms and you need a company that is qualified in managing the
whole process as well as the product,” Peters says.

With proper documentation and
processes in place, fulfilling orders with 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing
is streamlined and efficient, allowing Metro Aerospace to quickly answer the
needs of its customers.

3D printing production capacity and attentive service

Speed to market was an important factor for Metro Aerospace, and the
facilities and capacity available through 3D Systems were integral in making
quick delivery possible. From beginning to end, 3D Systems’ on demand team was
fully committed to Metro Aerospace with an open and transparent line of
communication to facilitate part quality and production expediency.

“They’re really dedicated, hardworking folks,” Peters says of 3D
Systems’ production specialists. “They even worked weekends for us when we
needed to get something done.”

The successful implementation of the SLS printed microvanes has given
way to further explorations in 3D printing for Metro Aerospace in the form of
microvane installation fixtures. Engineered to fool-proof microvane attachment,
Peters is again working with 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team to bring
this component to market after her company’s positive experience throughout
microvane production.

Whether you need fast turn 3D printed parts, advanced prototyping with
assembly and finishing services or low volume manufacturing including CNC,
urethane casting and injection tooling, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing
services can help advance your project, timeline and goals.

Contact our in-house experts for more information on our complete On Demand Manufacturing services.

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