Swiss engineering and technology company Oerlikon has signed a deal with RUAG Space to qualify and hasten serial production of 3D printed parts for use in space. The memorandum of understanding signed between the two companies at the Farnborough International Airshow marks another step in Oerlikon’s aggressive push into 3D printing. It is already a leading aerospace supplier of coatings and materials.
Oerlikon (Hall 3, Stand 3260) and RUAG Space already have been fine-tuning qualification and certification processes for a bracket for use on a payload fairing. Making full use of 3D printing capabilities, the bracket weighs 50 percent less, is twice as stiff, and costs 25 percent less to make compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
CEO of Oerlikon, Roland Fischer, told AIN that moving into additive manufacturing was a natural evolution for the company, which is eager to push the field’s technology while expanding its own market share. “The baby is born, but now we have to feed it. We have to help grow it up.”
Oerlikon is working with Boeing, Lufthansa, and others on various 3D printing projects. Much of the work is meant to improve production quality and stability—areas where additive manufacturing lags behind traditional casting, milling, and drilling.
Aerospace manufacturing has almost no room for variations between components, but too often, “if you do two parts on one [3D] printer, you cannot take it as a given that they are identical,” Fischer said. Oerlikon is working with Lufthansa Technik to take production stability to the next level, which will enable serial production. Fischer said he hopes to achieve that in 18 to 24 months. In five to 10 years, MROs might be able to print spare parts at airports for AOGs, he predicted.
First, though, more standard processes must be established for additive manufacturing. “It is not good enough that everyone does something a little different,” Fischer said. “We are talking about aerospace, where failure is not an option.” 3D printing today is like driving a car in 1905, he said. There were different automakers, but no certification processes, no standards, and not even established road signs.
“We are in this business already,” Fischer said. “We are a player, but we are not the dominant one.” To change that, the company is investing more than $100 million in its additive manufacturing capabilities. Oerlikon’s additive manufacturing operations brought in about $20 million in 2017. Fischer plans to expand that to $300 million in three to five years, depending on how quickly the market develops.