French firm Stelia Aerospace has lifted the lid on its newest innovation. Using WAAM (wire arc additive manufacturing), the company has demonstrated metallic self-reinforced aircraft fuselage panels that cut costs and save time from the assembly process.
Aircraft structures and seating are the bread and butter of Stelia Aerospace’s business, with its designs and processes in place in products by the likes of Airbus and Boeing. So it stands to reason that the manufacturer would look to innovative ways to optimize it’s work. Showcasing the tremendous potential of additive manufacturing, the company recently launched its first self-reinforcing fuselage panel, which makes use of WAAM (wire arc additive manufacturing) for its construction.
Constructed as part of the DEveloppement de la Fabrication Additive pour Composant TOpologique (DEFACTO) project — a research strategy founded by the company in 2014 to explore additive manufacturing in its particular field of fuselages and large aircraft sub-assemblies — the 1 sq m panel emphasizes that large-scale 3D printing in aerospace design is possible.
Traditionally the types of panels the firm looks to produce are a skin of aluminum stiffened with a skeleton of supports that are manually attached. However, an issue with this is that each and every element requires meticulous placing, fitting and eventually welding together. This is a costly process that requires significant time.
Model of fuselage with 3D-printed stiffeners.
3D Printing Plane Skeletons
By using WAAM to reinforce the panels instead, the company finds that the resulting panel is not only lighter, but cheaper to produce too. Put simply, WAAM utilized a robotic arm to weld metal material (in the form of a wire) in successive layers, much like fused deposition modelling.
“With this 3D additive manufacturing demonstrator, Stelia Aerospace aims to provide its customers with innovative designs on very large structural parts derived from new calculation methods,” explained CEO of Stelia Aerospace, Cédric Gautier. “Through its R&T department, and thanks to its partners, Stelia Aerospace is therefore preparing the future of aeronautics, with a view to develop technologies that are always more innovative and will directly impact our core business, aerostructures.”
As a bonus, the process is more environmentally friendly as it integrates multiple functions into a single part and generally requires less material.
Aerostructures manufacturing at Stelia Aerospace. (Image: Stelia Aerospace)
Source: Stelia Aerospace