UTC Aerospace Systems sees big benefits from additive manufacturing

Discussion
Pushing 3D Printing Across UTAS

There is a tension in aerospace’s DNA: Balancing bold innovation and safety. It was present at the Wright Brothers’ first flight, and is evident in the industry’s exploration of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.

In the lead peloton is United Technologies Corp. Aerospace Systems (UTAS), where Paula Hay oversees additive manufacturing initiatives. The company has doubled its additive manufacturing capacity in the past year and expanded its capabilities, as well.

UTAS has one part made with additive manufacturing, an interiors component, flying today. It is “pushing to have a decent amount of parts flying next year,” Hay told LNC in an interview.

The company is working to advance 3D printing across all six of its business units. “All your mechanical systems is where you start with additive manufacturing in aerospace, staying away from your primary flight structures,” Hay said.

“Additive needs to prove itself in the subsystems first, and then, as we get more comfort with it, then maybe moving into some of those more flight critical structures,” she said.

That means plenty of opportunity for UTAS, which provides a wide array of subsystems that are not primary flight structures.

Additive Manufacturing Can Deliver Big Results

To prove additive manufacturing’s potential, UTAS developed a printed fuel injector from a traditionally produced one. Printing reduced the number of parts from 18 to four. It cut lead time by 75%, weight by 10%, and raw material by 80%.

Those results are not a one-off. UTAS is seeing gains just as big with printed parts currently in development. Generally speaking, the company expects to see 10 to 50% cost reductions, part counts coming down by about 75%, and 40 to 60% weight reductions, Hay said.

These gains for suppliers add up to huge benefits across an airplane. They add up to significantly lower weight, less fuel burn, shorter production lead times, lower inventory costs, and performance not possible from traditionally manufactured parts.

Revolutionary, Not Evolutionary

Not surprisingly, the OEMs are “interested in just about anything as long as you stay away from that primary flight structure,” Hay said, though, “I don’t think it was like that two years ago.”

It is a revolutionary, not evolutionary change, she said.

Her bold tone is testament to how much additive manufacturing has advanced in recent years. In a 2014 interview with LNC, a Pratt & Whitney executive struck a much more measured tone with 3D printing, saying “it’s not revolutionary, it’s evolutionary.”

The technology and materials have taken great strides since then, and yet are still very much in their infancy.

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