Print your defence - 3D-printed components for Tornado fighter jets

Materials World magazine
,
1 Feb 2014

BAE engineers are producing 3D-printed components for Tornado fighter jets at RAF Marham, UK, which will cut the cost of repairs and maintenance over the next four years by £1.2 million. Ledetta Asfa-Wossen reports on five things you need to know.

What military parts is BAE printing?
The company's Combat Engineering team is using 3D printing to engineer readymade parts to supply four Squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft – including protective covers for Tornado cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for power take-off shafts. A communication box has also been designed and printed.

What are the components made of?
Stainless steel was used for the metal bracket and ground equipment. The nonmetallic components are made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene – a terpolymer that is extruded in a molten state and built up layer by layer.

What are the cost benefits?
The technique is particularly beneficial for producing small quantities. Cost saving can also be made by the negation of tooling. With some of the parts costing less than £100 per piece to manufacture, 3D printing has already resulted in savings of more than £300,000 and could offer savings of more than £1.2 million between now and 2017.

Aside from cost, what is the production advantage?
There is no restriction on where parts have to be manufactured. Providing the machinery can be delivered there, aircraft components can be manufactured at any site, which means other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers can be supported.

Are any 3D-printed military parts in use now?
A 3D metal camera bracket has recently flown from an airfield at Warton in Lancashire. Engineers are designing and producing 3D-printed functional components to support the aircraft when it is undergoing maintenance on the ground.

Further information
For a video showing how the BAE Systems 3D printing technology works, visit bit.ly/1cFybPZ