GE isn't the only one getting into the 3D-printed airplane part game. But, instead of little fuel injectors for turbines, the Chinese company AVIC Heavy Machinery and China's Northwestern Polytechnical University are printing off 5-meter-long titanium wing spars and equally long wing beams. (Thanks, Tim Heffernan!)

10 Responses to “Huge, 3D printed airplane parts in China”

  1. peregrinus says:

    They don’t shilly-shally about.

  2. airshowfan says:

    I’m pretty sure that “a 5 meter wing spar for the C919″ and “a 5 meter wing beam for the C919″ refer to the same component ;]

    • The photos looked like very different parts. But I could be wrong. 

    • Tim_Heffernan says:

       The captions in the links are a little confusing, so to clarify: link 1 shows a wing beam/spar, and link 2 shows what I am quite sure is a bulkhead, a structural fuselage component. There would be a number of them inside a given plane — at least four, judging by the inset in the photograph. The J-20′s and J-31′s twin engines would run through the large holes in the bulkheads, and both the engines and wings would be anchored to them.

  3. Dave1183 says:

    If you want some “wow” reading about metal fabrication, you should look into the Heavy Press Program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_Press_Program) that resulted in the world’s largest forging and extrusion presses.

    Oh, and as I checked the bottom of the Wikipedia article for references, lookie what I found here at BoingBoing!

    http://boingboing.net/2012/02/13/machines.html

    • Tim_Heffernan says:

      Yep, writing about the HPP is what first got me interested in large-scale, ultra-critical metalforming. In my BoingBoing post there’s a before-and-after photo of large titanium bulkheads for the F-15; they’re the same sort of component pictured in the first link in Maggie’s post on printed parts. I have a lot of questions about the physical characteristics of forged vs printed parts, and assume there are unique benefits to each process. (I also wonder whether the printed bulkhead comes out of the printer in its final form or needs additional machining, like the forged bulkheads do.)  But there’s no question AVIC is doing seriously impressive, technically brilliant work.

      • Dave1183 says:

        Good question about additional machining. I would guess – and I”m no expert – that in most cases there would be at least a little extra machining needed to do things like clean out and tap bolt holes. That wing spar looks like it’s got a rough texture, so maybe some parts would need a little cleaning up overall too, although a rough texture may not matter in areas that don’t come into tight contact with other parts.

        From a metallurgy know-nothing like me, it seems that pieces forged in those huge presses, like the F-15 bulkheads, would be stronger than 3D-printed parts. But I’m lucky if I can get a resume to print successfully on the first attempt…

      • Hugo says:

        Well, the printed bulkhead is clearly a CNC machined component, not a 3D printed one. It’s covered in machining marks.

  4. Henry Cannon says:

    This type of additive manufacturing can produce parts with finely controlled microstructures and can be used to produce parts just as strong as any other process.

    I’ve heard of the same tech being used to hardface mining equipment resulting in better than original performance. I’ve also heard of it being used to repair power station turbine blades.

    It doesn’t usually leave a nice surface finish and the printing resolution isn’t that great but it is used to produce full strength parts that will require a bit of post working for a final finish. It is for much more serious work than a quick & dirty prototype.

    • Tim_Heffernan says:

       Thanks, Henry, that’s all really interesting. I have hardfaced the teeth of a backhoe with a simple arc-welder…didn’t get quite the same performance gains as what you describe, I’d wager!

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