Honeywell’s Additive Manufacturing: All Science, No Fiction
Traditionally, when an airplane part goes into production, a custom mold is made from a CAD file and then sent off to a foundry for casting (production). It can take weeks or months for the parts to come back. With additive manufacturing, suppliers are now able to upload that same CAD file directly to a machine and have the parts printed out in a matter of hours or days. It’s a more efficient and cost-effective process.
In addition to increased efficiency, additive manufacturing also speeds up development of newer and more complicated parts. Since 3D printing is more precise than current manufacturing processes, the possibilities for application are greatly increased. On the aerospace side of things, Honeywell is currently working on new designs that would normally be too expensive to manufacture using traditional methods because of their intricate or complicated nature.
The same can be said for Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies (FM&T), which operates a national security facility in Kansas City for the United States Department of Energy. There, a new method called topology optimization is being utilized to manufacture tools in a more efficient way. Engineers simply input the functional and physical requirements of a tool, and the computer algorithm works with the 3D printer to create a design that is optimized to be lighter and stronger than a component made using traditional methods. While these parts may look strange to the human eye, they are the perfect shape and size for what is required and can be produced in weeks as opposed to months.
Additive manufacturing is still a relatively new industry. Honeywell had its first major milestone in June of 2010 when it became the first aviation company to place 3D-printed parts made with nickel alloy 718 on an active test plane.
“Few companies have embraced additive manufacturing to the same extent as Honeywell,” said Don Godfrey, engineering fellow, Additive Manufacturing Engineering. “We were the first aerospace company to build 3D printing labs in China, India, Europe, Mexico and the U.S. We see the value in this technology and will continue to research its uses across the aircraft.”
Looking ahead to the future, Honeywell has its eyes set on the stars – literally. In addition to expanding the nickel and aluminum capabilities, the goal is to dive deeper into the manufacturing of parts that will one day be launched into space.