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Firms work on additive manufacturing for aerospace parts

By: Frank Antosiewicz

August 1, 2012

DAYTON, OHIO (Aug. 1, 1:15 p.m. ET) — The University of Dayton Research Institute plans to use a $3 million grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Fund to develop a state supply chain for the printing and production of three-dimensional plastic engine components for the airplane industry.

“It is all about economic development in Ohio. We had to develop jobs in Ohio,” said Brian Rice, head of the UDRI’s Multi-Scale Composites and Polymers Division, in a telephone interview.

The research institute is working to develop a nanomaterial to reinforce the polymer feedstock that will increase strength and stiffness and also electrical conductivity.

It is working in collaboration with PolyOne Corp. and Rapid Prototype Plus Manufacturing Inc., both of Avon Lake, Ohio. PolyOne will scale up production of the polymer feedstock needed for mass manufacturing, while RP+M will handle the manufacturing.

Stratasys Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., is supporting by helping integrate the new materials into their additive manufacturing systems.

The partners are working to supply GE Aviation, which has its headquarters in Evendale, Ohio. The company has six major facilities as well as more 9,000 employees in the Dayton area. There are also many other companies that will be able to use the parts as well.

Rice said that additive manufacturing has evolved as an emerging technology in the last five years and is expecting to grow rapidly in the coming years.

Rice said that UDRI has been researching ways to produce airplane parts and decided on the Stratasys system of using the fused deposition modeling system to produce thermoplastic parts. Rice said that the system reduces waste because it uses only as much material needed for the model. It also eliminates the need for bolts, screws and welding.

He said that using the printer to produce parts with newer materials can add up to savings.

“Lighter parts mean greater fuel efficiency in vehicles and aircraft that use them. Another advantage is the cost savings that comes from a part-as-needed process, because you don’t need to ship parts or find a place to warehouse them,” said Jeff DeGrange, vice president of Stratasys, in a statement.

Rice said that UDRI can start working on the project with a Stratasys printer used by the University of Dayton Engineering Department. Part of the grant will allow the purchase of a second printer.

He also said the project will develop more jobs for Ohio, especially in the manufacturing area. It’s estimated that the grant could lead to as many as 85 new jobs in the next five years. It will also give Dayton students to work with cutting edge technology.

The UDRI was founded in 1956 to do research on behalf of the U.S. Air Force and has a strong focus on producing new materials for use in the aircraft industry.