Aeronautical locking mechanism manufacturer JPB Système has managed to drastically reduce the weight and lead time of aerospace parts during an initial round of 3D printing trials.
Designed to assess the potential applications of metal binder jet or ‘MBJ’ 3D printing in the creation of flight-ready aviation components, these experiments are so far said to have yielded “extremely positive results.” In fact, the firm says that in some use cases, switching to binder jetting has allowed it to make parts 30% lighter than before, while slashing their overall production time by as much as 80%.
“As we anticipated, our trials of MBJ technology underscore how its versatility and ability to reduce time and costs offer huge benefits for us as a company and for our customers,” said Jocelyn Vecchio, Director of Engineering and Innovation at JPB Système. “So far, our exploration into the application possibilities of MBJ have proved very successful and offer significant potential in our quest to innovate.”
JPB Système’s fittings business
Based in Paris-Villaroche, France, but with production facilities also in Poland and the United States, JPB Système specializes in the design and manufacture of ‘lockwireless anti-rotational devices.’ Initially built for aeronautical and aerospace usage, these fasteners and fittings are essentially designed for secure part affixation in extremely harsh environments.
Now finding further automotive, rail, marine and nuclear applications, the firm’s product portfolio includes its LULYOK and ELS fittings, as well as a range of push-locking fasteners and self-locking plugs. The former is based around JPB Système’s patented LULYOK technology, which can be used to produce various aircraft fittings that remove the need for safety wire, such as ‘B-nuts’ for securing tubing.
More broadly, the company says that it products can also be deployed in place of lock wires, tab washers, cotter pins or any other fastening fitting or borescope plug, thanks to their ability to endure intense vibration, temperature fluctuation or chemical contamination, which effectively enhances the safety, efficacy and longevity of aircraft engines.
Aeronautical binder jetting trials
According to JPB Système, the parts produced via its binder jetting trials are typically created using machining or foundry casting processes with “limitations” when it comes to “achievable geometries.” The firm also says that creating components in this way requires the use of expensive tooling and molds, which take up to six months to produce, lengthening the lead times of anything they help manufacture.
To get around these issues, JPB Système has begun assessing the potential of 3D printing as an alternative production process, with initial results proving to be highly-promising. With regards to lead times, test parts are said to have “met expectations,” by “delivering robust lighter-weight alternatives quicker, easier and more cost-effectively” than before.
JPB Système also says that during its binder jetting trials, it was able to create products with more intricate, integrated geometries that require less assembly in the space of just four weeks. In one such example, the company was able to consolidate several parts into a ‘multi-component functional system,’ in a way that not only simplified its assembly, but eliminated any risk of foreign object entry.
Elsewhere, in other areas of its product range, the firm found it was able to 3D print parts with hollow lattice structures which proved 30% lighter than their predecessors, while continuing to meet durability requirements and using much less material.
“This is an important tick-in the-box for OEM customers and those further up the supply chain who are constantly seeking to reduce the overall weight of the aircraft,” adds JPB Système Research Engineer, Benjamin Sangouard. “A lighter aircraft means less fuel, which means less cost and reduced emissions, which is of course important from a sustainability perspective.”
Moving forwards, JPB Système intends to open a new start-of-the art facility in Villaroche in 2023, in which 3D printers will be deployed as part of an ‘automated production line.’ Given that the firm’s clientele currently includes the likes of Safran, Pratt & Whitney, GE and Rolls-Royce, the factory’s opening could now see 3D printed fittings deployed by some of the aerospace sector’s biggest players.
Additive manufacturing in aerospace
3D printing continues to find new aerospace applications, not just in the production of fittings or fasteners, but the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of flight-critical aircraft components. Just last year, Saab successfully deployed the technology to 3D print a fighter jet hatch for one of its Gripen aircraft, in a ‘battle damage’ repair exercise.
In September 2020, Optomec was also contracted by the US Air Force to develop a turbine engine repair 3D printer, capable of high-volume titanium part refurbishment. At the time, the firm’s VP of business development Jamie Hanson said the system would unlock “virtually uninterrupted production in an oxygen-free environment,” in a way that allows the aerospace industry to “meet its cost-reduction goals.”
MRO applications aside, 3D printing is also deployed by many manufacturers to produce interior parts for commercial aircraft. While Cabin Management Solutions currently uses a Markforged 3D printer to create FAA-compliant luxury aircraft parts, EOS and Baltic3D have previously worked with Etihad Engineering as well, to explore the idea of serially-producing FFF and SLS-printed airplane interiors.
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Featured image shows a JPB Système engineer assessing the quality of a 3D printed aerospace prototype. Photo via JPB Système.