MTC uses 3D printing tech for aero engine component

Posted on 23 Jun 2015 by The Manufacturer

Engineers at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry have played a key role in the production of the largest ever civil aero engine part using 3D printing technology.

The component – an aero engine front bearing housing the size of a tractor wheel – has been produced by Rolls-Royce. It has been tested on the Trent XWB-97 engine, which will power the in-development Airbus A350-1000. The 3D printed component has been used for extensive ground testing and will take to the skies later this year when Rolls Royce flight tests an XWB-97 engine on its Boeing 747 flying test bed.

Engineers from Derby-based Rolls-Royce have worked closely with additive manufacturing specialists from the MTC and the University of Sheffield, as well as machinery supplier Arcam. The 1.5 metre diameter titanium part contains 48 aerofoils also produced by 3D printing, also known as additive layer manufacturing (ALM).

The ALM process involves building ultra-thin layers of metal powder which are melted using either a laser or an electron beam heat source. The technology can be used to produce complex shapes in a single operation. Rolls-Royce has been using ALM technology to repair components for more than five years, and is now using its expertise to build bigger and more complex components.

The Manufacturing Technology Centre is the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing and is working on several cutting edge projects with the world’s major manufacturers across several sectors. MTC chief executive Dr Clive Hickman said additive technology was ideal for prototyping, allowing for designs which could not be produced by more conventional processes.

“The project has been a key step in proving the industrial viability of the process, and shortening manufacturing lead times in this application by more than 30 per cent compared to developing components of this type using conventional methods of manufacturing. There is no doubt that additive manufacture has the potential to transform manufacturing in the future,” said Hickman.

Established in 2010, the MTC was founded by the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, the University of Nottingham and TWI Ltd. The MTC’s industrial members include some of the UK’s major global manufacturers and aims to provide a competitive environment to bridge the gap between university-based research and the development of innovative manufacturing solutions, in line with the Government’s manufacturing strategy.