AM Production for Aerospace
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft provides support and engineering services for its in-service fleet of some 500 commercial aircraft worldwide.
As part of its ongoing spares support for the BAE 146 regional airliner, the company needed to replace a small pipe which forms part of the cabin windows and stops the windows misting up. The part, known as a ‘breather pipe’, had originally been made via injection moulding, but the tooling had become damaged and replacement tooling was expected to take months to produce and cost in the region of £14,000.
It was important to produce the parts rapidly as without this small, but critical part, a plane could be grounded. BAE Systems Regional Aircraft turned to 3T RPD and additive manufacturing (AM) for the solution.
The Regional Aircraft team at Prestwick realised that 3D manufacturing could provide an elegant solution to this problem. They designed the replacement breather pipes and these were prototyped by their colleagues at the BAE Systems’ Military Air & Information. Then, Regional Aircraft worked with 3T to develop the product for production for 3T to build batches of the parts.
3T used the CAD drawings from the customer and produced a number of example parts. Quality Assurance inspections highlighted potential for improvement prior to going to production. The original pipe had a small diameter with a sharp bend. Both these features caused problems as it made the removal of loose powder difficult and loose powder left in the pipe restricted the air flow thus making the part unreliable.
3T’s QA, CAD and customer service teams worked with the team at Regional Aircraft to understand the part’s critical features and then propose design amends to make the part suitable for AM production. The CAD was modified to widen the pipe diameter (without changing the external dimension) and smoothed the line of the pipe so that the radius of the bend was less acute and more rounded.
Additionally, test builds completed at 3T, led the QA team to identify that placing the part in a specific build orientation resulted in more consistent production.
After working with 3T, the parts are now in stock at BAE Systems Regional Aircraft’s spares warehouse and are being used by its customers for use on in-service aircraft. The projected timeline for producing the part using injection moulding was six months yet using additive manufacturing, this was reduced to four weeks.
Philip Beard, Structures Support Manager for In-Service Aircraft at BAE Systems Regional Aircraft said: “Not only was there significant time saving and the avoidance of the tooling cost, but the actual parts cost 60 per cent less than when manufactured using the traditional method.”
“Having achieved this first breakthrough on the BAe 146 window breather pipe, we are now looking at a range of other 3D Printing opportunities to provide replacement parts across several different commercial aircraft types. This technology offers a potential solution for aircraft parts which are prone to obsolescence, where tooling is unavailable, for quick turn rounds and also for small batch production.”
The additively manufactured part is already fitted on flying planes under EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) Form 1 certification. BAE Regional Aircraft makes and supplies parts through its EASE 21J and 21G approvals. 3T RPD holds AS9100 (the aerospace certification scheme) for the production of metal parts using additive manufacturing, alongside ISO9001 and ISO 13485 (the medical devices standard), and this ensures that 3T has the necessary systems in place to provide quality parts to customers for use in the most critical environments.