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US$4 million to improve 3D printing aerospace repair

3D printing specialist Optomec has been awarded a major project from America Makes (the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute) to improve additive manufacturing (AM) technology to repair aerospace metal components for the US Air Force.

The “Re-Born in the USA” project will use the company’s LENS 3D metal printing to develop a reliable, cost-effective approach to replace conventional repair processes such as manual welding. This includes definition of optimum powder feedstock characteristics, improvements in process monitoring and control, and recommendations for part repair and sustainment applications specifically for the Air Force.The potential benefits of using additive manufacturing to repair high value metal components include lower costs, higher quality, longer life, and faster return to service.

Optomec will lead a project team consisting of 23 partners, including aerospace industry leaders GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies Research Center, and Rolls-Royce, as well as a group of technical experts serving as lead contributors including EWI, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, TechSolve, the Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Lab, and Concurrent Technologies Corporation.

Unlike “powder-bed” additive manufacturing approaches, the LENS process can add metal onto an existing substrate of almost any three-dimensional shape.  Powder-bed processes require a flat, two-dimensional horizontal base.  This makes the LENS Additive Manufacturing process qualified to perform repair operations. LENS machines are already in use conducting repairs of ground based high value components for defense and other industries.

AM application

"This award is significant because it highlights that repair is indeed a leading application area in the additive manufacturing landscape,” said Dr Richard Grylls, Optomec LENS general manager and project leader. “We are looking forward to working with our partners to deliver a repair methodology that addresses the current challenges faced by the Air Force and provides a framework for the potential adoption of additive manufacturing repair processes throughout the aircraft industry. Together, we will demonstrate the benefits of additive manufacturing over traditional welding techniques and enable a ‘repair, don’t replace’ approach to critical part sustainment for high-value aerospace components.”

This is the third America Makes project awarded to Optomec this year.

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