The Italian company Plyform has used Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing to produce sacrificial tools to produce composite parts for helicopters, and in some cases, flight-ready aircraft parts.
Plyform has found that 3D printing tooling to produce carbon-fiber parts for helicopters, is both faster and cheaper than using aluminum tools. This includes parts such as the pilot’s cyclic stick where a mould tool is 3D-printed using ST-130 soluble material and the carbon fiber composite material then wrapped around the mould. When this cures the internal sacrificial core is washed away leaving the final composite part.
Luca Ceriani, Plyform head of Manufacturing Engineering, explains: “To produce the composite tool for a helicopter’s pilot stick, traditionally we would need four hours to mill the tool and another four hours to give it an external treatment to avoid resin contamination. With Stratasys FDM technology, we can 3D print a tool in just two and a half hours and at 80% reduced cost. In addition, I estimate that using this technique the quality of the part has improved by 30%. This is a game-changer for our business.”
Plyform is also making flight ready parts to order for customers using Ultem 9085 thermoplastic material, printed with a F900 Production printer. This allows Plyform to produce complex geometries, and to consolidate the number of components, making them much lighter than traditional parts.
Ceriani says that every gram saved makes a difference in the aerospace industry, adding: “With the F900, we can produce parts with extremely good surface finish. Once we paint and finish each part, it’s amazing how closely they look like a traditional manufactured part. But most importantly, the parts produced can match the performance of aluminum parts, which will be key to opening up more and more additive manufacturing applications within the aircraft in the future.”
Ceriani says that there are strict rules and regulations in the aerospace sector around repeatability and traceability, noting: “The F900 offers the best precision and repeatability of all additive manufacturing technologies we’ve tried, while the Ultem 9085 material is ideal for the aerospace industry, as its FST compliant and offers high chemical and thermal resistance. Having access to this technology enables us to bypass the traditional tooling process and 3D print lightweight parts for our customers on-demand, at a much lower cost.”