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02-08-2019 | Production + Production Technology | News | Article

Additive Manufacturing of Engine Components for Aviation

Author:
Nadine Winkelmann

Using blade integrated disks as an example, researchers are demonstrating an integrated process chain for manufacturing engine components for aviation – from design and layout through additive manufacturing, heat treatment and subtractive finishing to quality assurance.

Globalisation and climate change are two of the major challenges facing aviation. The European Commission for Research and Innovation's "European Flightpath 2050 – Europe's Vision for Aviation" report foresees a pioneering role for Europe in reconciling adequate passenger mobility, safety and environmental protection. This purpose requires further development in design, manufacturing and system integration. A new and promising approach has been introduced by a scientific collaboration in Aachen.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) and the Chair for Digital Additive Production (DAP) at RWTH Aachen University are currently developing a process chain for the production of blade integrated disks (BLISKs), in which the laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) additive manufacturing process is integrated. Modern BLISKs are manufactured from nickel-based superalloys, among other materials. This material is difficult to machine, which makes the production of the blade profile by established milling processes very time-consuming and cost-intensive. For this reason, the researchers started questioning the conventional manufacturing processes and instead tested the additive technology (LPBF). In this process, metal powder is melted layer by layer with a laser beam, using the geometric information provided.

Additive manufacturing processes offer economic and ecological advantages

Using a BLISK as an example, researchers are demonstrating an integrated process chain for manufacturing engine components for aviation – from design and layout through additive manufacturing, heat treatment and subtractive finishing to quality assurance. The aim is to produce the BLISKs, especially their blade profiles, close to the final contour so that only little excess material has to be removed. For this purpose the researchers had to develop a suitable LPBF manufacturing process. Grid structures support the thin-walled component during production and minimise vibrations during post-processing.

The use of these additive technologies offers several advantages: In concrete terms, the flexibility in the design of the complex geometries used in aviation is increased. At the same time, less material is used, which protects the environment and reduces costs. In addition, the use of additive processes enables the economic development and production of even smaller, more complex core engines with reduced pollutant and noise emissions.

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