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SAVING Project – saving litres of aviation fuel

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The Brief:
The SAVING Project wanted to take a conventional part, redesign it to take advantage of the benefits of Additive Manufacturing thereby reducing its weight, in order to demonstrate the potential energy saving possible during the product’s lifetime use.

Having identified that by reducing the weight of an accelerating object there was the potential to save significant amount of fuel, COemissions and cost1, the Project turned its attention to airplanes.

The objective was to find a plane part that offered the potential to reduce its weight and so save material, yet maintain strength and functionality.  The part had to be re-designed in a way that enabled it to be built with minimum supports during construction and minimum post production finishing.

The Solution:
Commercial airplanes can have anything up to 850 seat belt buckles.  A standard airplane buckle is made of steel and can weigh as much as 155g.  The team assessed the buckle and redesigned it to meet the brief.

The initial redesign created a very thin opening lever with a surface structure that provided the rigidity.  Making the part with additive manufacturing meant it was possible to build the lever with locally thin sections.  It was also possible to combine multiple parts into one part as the belt adjustment mechanism was combined with the lever – reducing post production finishing as well as weight.

The team experimented with build orientation and nesting of the parts on the platform in order to make the process as efficient as possible.  Initial conclusions are that all parts should be built vertically and work continues to refine the outcomes.  This means the parts are built without construction supports and means that simpler wire cutting to remove multiple parts from the build platform is achievable.

The Result:
Traditionally constructed, airline seat belt buckles weigh between 155g (Steel) and 120g (Aluminium).  When made in Titanium with additive manufacturing, the weight is reduced to 68g without compromising strength.  This is a maximum potential weight saving of 87g.

An Airbus A380 when configured for economy passengers has 853 seats.  Exchanging the traditional steel buckle for an additive manufactured titanium buckle would lead to a total weight saving of 74kg.  Using the work of Helm and Lambrechtthis could lead to a 3,300,000 litres fuel saving over the life of the plane and 0.74Mtonne less COemissions.

This project is being used as a live demonstrator to enable the SAVING Project to write the design rules for metal additive manufacturing.  The buckle has been through a number of iterations and each one has helped the team put together material for a masterclass on design for DMLS which will be published later this year.

Extra bits:
The SAVING Project is a consortium of seven organisations committed to additive manufacturing.  The Project’s objective is to “make more with less – creating sustainable products through innovative design and additive manufacturing”.  SAVING stands for:Sustainable product development via design optimisation and Additive manufacturing.

This means the Project will help the UK rapidly exploit additive manufacturing technologies in the areas of lightweight and sustainable products, benefiting the UK’s aerospace and medical sectors.

The Project partners represent every step in the supply chain for AM technology.  The partners are:

Simpleware: is a hi-tech 3D CAD, FEA and CFD software provider and provides the project with 3D image based software platforms which have the latest design optimisation technology.

Delcam: is a global leading CAD/CAM developer and its CAD/CAM tools interface with new design and process optimisation technologies.

Exeter University: is a world leading material and computing research group and brings academic experts specialised in material structure, AM and computational optimisation to the project.

3T RPD: is a leading additive manufacturer with 50% of the UK’s plastic Laser Sintering capacity and 40% of the UK’s metal Laser Sintering capacity.  It was the first UK AM producer to gain ISO 13845 (the medical industry standard) and contributes to the Project’s expertise on product development.

Crucible Industrial Design: is a specialist in new industrial design and manufacturing solutions for high-value markets.  It specialises in designing for AM to reduce product cost and add value.

EOS Electro Optical Systems Ltd: supplies 3T RPD with plastic and metal Laser Sintering machines and is part of EOS Group which is one of the largest AM equipment providers in the world.

Plunkett Associates Ltd: is an AM specialist and consultant drawing on a worldwide network of specialist suppliers to deliver cost effective, low volume manufacturing solutions.

The Project is funded by the Government’s Technology Strategy Board (TP14/BA036D).

Helm H. and Lambrecht U. “The Potential Contribution of Light Weighting to Reduce Transport and Energy Consumption”  IJLCA July 2006


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