Stratasys technology has been used in the past for 3D printed aerospace applications, and now UK company Senior Aerospace BWT has invested in the company by installing two of its industrial-grade 3D printers at its Macclesfield, Cheshire site. Part of Senior plc, an AS/EN/JISQ 9100:2016 accredited global manufacturer of ultra-lightweight, low-pressure air distribution systems for aerospace, Senior Aerospace BWT is now reporting savings of up to 75% on several interior aircraft parts it’s 3D printing for OEMs using the Fortus 450mc systems from Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS). In addition, to show top customers that it really means business, the company went through a testing and qualification program of ULTEM 9085 resin—an aerospace-grade material, also by Stratasys.
“Senior Aerospace BWT is now an industry leader in driving the increased adoption of thermoplastic 3D-printed parts for aircraft, enabling our customers to benefit from the significant benefits that this technology delivers,” Darren Butterworth, the CEO of Senior Aerospace BWT, stated in a press release. “After two years of intensive R&D work, we have qualified the associated products and processes, which enable us to produce flight-ready parts quickly and cost-effectively for our customers. We now have the capability of deploying a robust, accurate, repeatable and traceable process – which is what the industry demands.”
Producing components in Stratasys’ aerospace-grade ULTEM 9085 resin ensures a robust, repeatable and traceable production process for BWT’s customers. This image shows a 3D printed development component used in low pressure air ducting systems.
Just last year, Stratasys, which recently reported that its revenues and shares had gone up in Q4 2020, used its ULTEM 9085 resin to produce several 3D printed aircraft interior parts, such as a cover to protect seat controllers, a safety level catch for the emergency doors of the Boeing 787, a cocktail tray, and more. Now that it’s completed and approved the qualification reports for the aerospace-grade material, Senior Aerospace BWT can also Stratasys’ ULTEM 9085 to 3D print interior aircraft components for its customers in the aircraft manufacturing field.
This isn’t Senior Aerospace BWT’s first experience with additive manufacturing; in fact, its experience with the technology goes back over a decade. But it was only four years ago when the company, through a technical partnership with a service bureau, first started looking into the commercial viability of using Stratasys FDM 3D printing for fabricating interior aircraft parts. In 2018, through this collaboration, Senior Aerospace BWT produced its first duct with a 3D printed part for flight use on regional passenger jets.
Senior Aerospace BWT counts regional, military, private jet and rotorcraft markets in its worldwide customer base. After recently installing and using Stratasys’ FDM-based Fortus 450mc printers for the traceable, repeatable production of 3D printed interior aircraft parts, like components used in air handling and low pressure air ducting systems, the company is reporting major savings in lead times, weight, and cost of these parts in comparison to traditionally sourced aluminum. This is most especially the case in terms of small order quantities.
“In many cases, minimum order quantities for off-the-shelf aluminum parts make traditional manufacturing simply unviable when we may only need a handful for one aircraft. If you add to that the small, complex geometries of some parts, it just does not warrant the cost and time to CNC machine them in aluminum,” Buttercraft explained.
Having completed and approved the necessary qualification reports, Senior Aerospace BWT is now fully capable of 3D printing interior aircraft components to meet the needs of aircraft manufacturers.
Since that first duct in 2018, Senior Aerospace BWT has used FDM technology to print hundreds of lightweight, flight-ready interior aircraft parts, many of them featuring intricate, complex geometry. In fact, this success with FDM 3D printing set the initial groundwork for the company to invest, through local Stratasys partner Tri-Tech 3D, in the two Fortus 450mc 3D printers it now has on-site. Of course, a large part of Senior Aerospace BWT’s AM success is due to Stratasys’ aerospace-grade materials, like ULTEM 9085, which definitely made the material characterization and qualification process easier.
While Senior Aerospace BWT will obviously continue to focus on 3D printing for the aerospace industry (it is in its name, after all), in the future it’s planning to make its AM services available to companies in other industries, like automotive and defense, as well. This plan will include the installation of additional Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printers.