Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM): Enabling a New Emerging Technology
Additive manufacturing (AM) is beginning to revolutionize production technology on a global scale. The AM sector has shifted from prototyping tools to overall manufacturing of various products and enhancing product quality. Companies are installing more AM machines to better control the move form development learning projects to full production of AM parts.
A Sneak Peek into the Market Trends
Being involved in metal AM, we have focused specifically on selective laser melting (SLM), also known as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or laser powder bed fusion (LPBF). We feel the resolution and part quality from this process is best suited for Moog’s applications. At Moog, we have been experiencing challenges in three particular aspects of metal AM—design, trust, and cost. From the design perspective, the real difficulty lies in the lack of industry accepted AM material standards to design to. As metal AM technology is new and still immature, the trust issue arises with the repeatability of producing the same quality metal with every layer of every build of every part. We aim to provide reliable product to aerospace, where we are primarily driving metal AM technology. Further, we find it challenging to lower cost of metal AM process due to the lack of appropriate cost effective inspection methods.
One of the positive trends in metal AM sector is that AM machine manufacturers are introducing machines with more lasers and the ability to melt thicker layers that will help lower the cost of AM. The design and analysis tools are maturing as well. It is seen that some of the prominent players in the AM industry that produce current CAD and analysis tools are now creating technology specific to metal AM. This technology helps AM designers save time because the new CAD tools can create complex AM geometry faster.
We, at Moog, are trying to take advantage of AM by designing products that will have weight savings and performance gains in aerospace applications. Relative to our competitors, we think we are better positioned to leverage additive manufacturing to its fullest capability because of our in-depth experience with the technology. We also look at the technology as an opportunity to provide more value in the final product application for our customers.
Additive manufacturing is the new technology that allows designers to be unconstrained in developing free-form and intricate features, without the need for expensive tooling
Future of the AM Marketplace
To pinpoint disruptions that might occur in the AM market is somewhat difficult because it depends on how the LPBF technology matures over time. LPBF metal AM technology is going to replace some of the conventional designs and methodologies but not all. LPBF will have its place in manufacturing for specific applications. One disrupter is if significant growth in point of use manufacturing could enable a lower cost supply chain solution. Additive as a manufacturing method might also give rise to aggregate just in time production, where centralized manufacturing hubs will produce parts in one place for multiple companies.
At Moog, we see the AM technology as an enabler to manufacture our products quickly in smaller and lighter sizes as an effective influence to the market. We are developing controlled processes for making good metal for every build, and to that end, AM can have a viable path forward for serial production. Moreover, AM technology provides us rapid prototyping capability, faster development, and potentially lower production costs. We will continue to increase the manufacturing readiness level (MRL) and technology readiness level (TRL), so AM design can be our first choice for production.
To find the right partner, we focus on the manufacturers who are interested in improving the repeatability and reliability of the product that we produce. Secondly, the partner should be willing to share the cost of learning apart from understanding the market with a serious will to work on it. Thirdly, the partner must be open about what they know and willing to share it.
Metal AM has given us new tools to solve our customers’ most difficult technical challenges. Currently, we are working very specifically on applying AM to our propulsion engines for better performance and faster time to market. With AM, we are able to produce engines that are lighter weight, and can isolate heat better.
Our team has also been positioning itself in the flight control applications space to not only provide weight savings but also reduce lead-time. Weight savings result in lower fuel usage, which means lesser costs for the end customer. To ensure higher reliability of our product, we test the AM components with millions of cycles.
The Integrated Smart Actuator (ISA) was developed in partnership with the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) for their HyQReal robot. This robot needed a hydraulic actuator that was compact and lightweight. As we had additive as a solution, we can condense the size of the actuator and ultimately provide the performance they needed in a lightweight robotic system.
Advice for Aspiring Professionals
To be successful in the AM space, organizations must continue to push the technology while adapting to new trends as they develop. Instead of being conservative, young AM leaders should focus on the aspects where they can influence and transform for a better outcome. AM has limitations relative to the maturity level of the technology, but that can never prevent anyone from being ready with all the training/processes/systems to support this new emerging technology.