Boeing Embraces Design Freedom using 3D printing
February 7, 2018
Boeing knows how to get the job done right using large part 3D printing. Boeing has been a forerunner in applying additive manufacturing in integrated mechanical designs. According to Senior Technical Fellow, Richard Aston, claims that 3D printing “enables an efficient design process that can achieve design solutions that we could have not imagined in the past.” Let’s explore why Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and manufacturer, uses additive manufacturing to improve their projects.
The 702SP Satellite Development program
One of their biggest projects using 3D printing technology is with satellites. Satellite design must be precise. There are many factors that go into each design: mass, multifunctional structures, low production volumes, low duty cycles, high reliability and speed. Thus, additive manufacturing was ideal opportunity to explore “free form” design.
Boeing launched the 702SP satellite development program and sparked a change in the engineering model. A team of engineers, led by one lead engineer, were assembled to “think additively” and “be creative in the development of structural solutions.” Some of the responsibilities of the lead engineer was guide the team to develop mechanical architecture, load paths, subsystem integration, development of new materials, and execute loads of development, design, stress and manufacturing. Aston said using 3D printing allowed the team to “design configurations that had once been unproducible were now possible.” The Boeing team’s hard work paid off. In 2015, members of the Boeing engineering team were awarded a NASA Spaceflight Awareness Award for applying additive manufacturing technology to the CST-100 program which reduced mass, cost and cycle time. Other factors, such as full product ownership (from concept to launch) and having a team skilled in design, stress, materials, and manufacturing engineering also contributed to their success.
improving the ses-15 using 3D printing
The first satellite Boeing seriously improved with 3D printing technology was the SES-15 spacecraft. The SES-15 serves North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. It was launched May 18, 2017 and is designed to work for 15 years.
For the SES-15, there were many opportunities to improve the design using 3D printing technology. One was a new design for a nadir surface mounted optical bench. This required the engineer team to take a systems approach, considering not only additive manufacturing, but also how “the additively manufactured components would function in an integrated assembly”. Although additive manufacturing alone did not offer significant technical advantages, when “applied in concert” with new materials, the product “yielded a lightweight, low cost and thermally stable design solution”. Now, the design process of the SES-15 project is used for all flight hardware that is 3D printed within the Boeing Space and Missile Systems organization. Additive manufacturing now plays an active part for current projects.
From satellites to missiles, helicopters, and beyond
Boeing now uses 3D printing technology to design missiles, helicopters and airplanes. A small internal team delivers nearly 1,000 3D printed parts to its flight programs. Boeing says using the technology significantly improves its manufacturability and reduces costs by approaching design as an “integrated mechanical system”.
More on how Boeing is using 3D printing to improve spacecraft engineering here.
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