European Project Develops 3D-Printing Process for Applying Aluminium Stiffeners to Aerospace Fuselage Panels

3d aluminium printing stelia

A consortium of four European organizations has developed a method for producing self-reinforced fuselage panels by applying aluminium wire to said panels via additive manufacturing.

Firms Stelia Aerospace and CT Ingénierie, and École Centrale de Nantes, all of France, and Constellium of the Netherlands developed the groundbreaking method under the auspices of their research and technology project DEFACTO (DEveloppement de la Fabrication Additive pour Composant Topologique).

The project distilled the technology into the form of a small robotic tool that merges printed aluminium wire onto the surface of an aircraft’s fuselage, then fixing it in place by electric arc in a process known as WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing). According to the project’s press release, this technology is ripe for adoption in the aerospace industry, as it vastly streamlines the often time-consuming and labor-intensive method currently in use, which often involves either welding or attaching stiffeners with screws.

Stelia Aerospace CEO Cédric Gautier opined that this new technology is the logical next step in aerospace design.

“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 (topological optimisation). 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.”

Begun in the summer of 2016, the DEFACTO project enjoys financing split between the project’s partners and France’s DGAC (French Directorate General for Civil Aviation). The project is the brainchild of Stelia’s 2014 research initiative focused upon topological optimization related to additive manufacturing demonstrators for elementary parts, large-dimension parts, and large sub-assemblies. It aims to produce innovative practices that integrate functions, reduce ecological impact by limiting material use, lightweighting, and reducing manufacturing costs.



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