Automated de-powdering of a 3D printed aerospace part

Solukon supports Lortek in depowdering a complex 3D printed part made from titanium with its innovative technology for automated Smart Powder Recuperation (SPR).

Lortek, a private technological centre deeply involved in additive manufacturing technologies, is the coordinator of several European projects related to metal additive manufacturing. One of this European project is FLOWCAASH, which belongs to Clean Sky 2 framework and Airbus is the topic manager.

In FLOWCAASH project, Active Flow Control actuators have been designed and manufactured at aircraft scale using Selective Laser Melting (SLM) technology and Ti6Al4V alloy.

One of the main challenges of the Pulsed Jet Actuator (PJA) is the geometrical complexity since it needs to be installed in restricted spaces, in between the wing and nacelle of UHBR (Ultra High By pass Ratio) aircraft engines.

The PJA is a relatively large part and is composed of several channels with abrupt and narrow curvatures. Nevertheless, this component is especially suited to be printed by SLM in contrast to conventional methods.

Distortion prediction simulations have been performed in order to design the supporting strategy and find out the best orientation, avoiding supports inside the channels which are not accessible to remove after the printing process.

PJA actuators present some advantages over other active actuators. For instance, PJA are 50% more efficient and they could even replace the conventional ones. For that, aerodynamic performance and high resistance to harsh environment should be assured. This tests will be shortly carried out by CTA partner.

Other benefits that will be expected in the project, consequence of the light-weighting of the component and the use of SLM technology, are less fuel and CO2 emissions and a reduction in material waste and scraps.

After the 3D printing of the parts, the remaining powder should be removed completely to prevent the blocking of the channels by the sintered powder during the heat treatment. This is particularly very challenging in case of the PJA actuator if manual processes are conducted.

The Solukon de-powdering process SPR provides programmable pivoting of the parts around two spatial axes. The adjustable frequency enables the desired optimisation of the powder flow, not to mention that it enables the cleaning of even the smallest openings and channels, which is of paramount importance for thermal downstream processes. To keep the entire process safe, it can run under inert conditions.

Andreas Hartmann, co-founder and technical director, said: “Our aim is to give the industry a smart and highly automated and sustainable tool to close the gap between manufacturing and post processing. The process is fully automated and takes place in a protected and safety-controlled atmosphere, thus avoiding contact with harmful fine powders.

“Our SPR technology helps to save labour time, ensures that the most stringent demands of health and safety are met, and increases the quality process significantly. At the same time, it reclaims the residual powder without contamination and makes it available for further processing and re-use.”

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