Continuing a $17.8 million agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), British multinational manufacturer GKN Aerospace has commissioned a new large scale additive manufacturing production cell. Deemed “Cell 2” the system uses laser metal deposition with wire (LMD-w) technology and will be used to develop large aircraft components for GKN.
The commission is an advance on a five year project initially launched between the two partners in June 2017. The overall aim is to reduce the buy-to-fly ratio of material lost in conventional processes, creating cost competition with metal plate manufacturing and forging.
Cell 2, according to Mike McCann, the CEO of GKN Aerospace Aerostructures North America, is also believed to be “the largest laser metal deposition with wire (LMD-w) pilot production cell in the world.”
Leading additive manufacturing in aerospace
GKN Aerospace supplies and services all major aircraft manufacturers. As part of this proviso, the company drives technological innovation within the aerospace industry, including being one of the first companies to to implement lightweight materials in aircraft components around three decades ago. Since the uptake of additive manufacturing, the company has been doing the same for this technology.
GKN Aerospace manufactures the engine nozzle for the Ariane 5 rocket using its proprietary LMD-w technology, it also owns the contract to produce 3D printed turbines for the Ariane Group’s Prometheus engine and it is an early access partner of the HP Metal Jet system.
In December 2018, the company contributed £17 million to found a £32 million Global Technology Center in the UK, that will include additive manufacturing as part of its development roadmap.
As stated proudly by the company, “We set the standard in highlighting the unlimited possibilities of additive manufacturing for the aerospace industry and are currently at the cutting-edge of technology leadership worldwide.”
The 8-axis Cell 2
When GKN Aerospace set up its agreement with ORNL in 2017, there was a dual focus: first to develop its LMD-w process, and second to create an electron beam melting-powered deposition method. As stated at the time of this initial agreement, the purpose was “to speed progress towards fully industrializing these processes.”
The first GKN prototype additive manufacturing cell at ORNL has since succeeded in its production of engines and aerostructures, and has included the implementation of closed-loop control. Cell 2 builds upon the knowledge gained over the past two years. Features of the pilot system include a 52in x 32in max substrate size, 8-axis of motion, an inert environment, 20kW laser and two-sided deposition.
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Featured image shows GKN Aerospace’s Cell 2 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Photo via GKN Aerospace