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United Kingdom The Military Technology

RAF Fighter Flies On Printed Parts 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the make-me-another dept.
Rambo Tribble writes "In what is being touted as a milestone, Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter jets have flown with 3-D printed parts. The announcement came from defense company BAE Systems, and it depicts the program as a model for cost-saving. From the article: 'The parts include protective covers for cockpit radios and guards for power take-off shafts. It is hoped the technology could cut the RAF's maintenance and service bill by over £1.2m over the next four years.'"
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RAF Fighter Flies On Printed Parts

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  • Doesn't seem like much over 4 years. I suspect it's running at loss at least 2 of those 4 years.

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:51PM (#45880881) Journal
    ... but we're only free from the contractors if we specify that we need the CAD files for the individual components as part of the initial production contract.

    On demand part printing is very cool, but it's kind of a yawn until they fly an entirely 3D printed plane.
    • by bob_super (3391281) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:03PM (#45880995)

      Just what we need. Management will say "just print it, you have the files" and not realize that titanium was specced for a reason.
      You mean you actually needed that stabilizer to not shear off at mach 2?

      • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:14PM (#45881105) Homepage

        Mach 2? Try 40 mph once it starts vibrating and flexing. These surfaces are subject to significant aerodynamic forces even in a small airplane - that's why they're there in the first place...

      • good thing printing in titanium is a possibility
        • by bob_super (3391281) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:34PM (#45881299)

          I'm curious for a good reference comparing metal strength and fatigue resistance between printed/machined/welded/forged parts.

          • I have no idea to be honest, but I'd venture a guess that it's been done already for everything except for printed parts, by many parties.
            • by Firethorn (177587)

              Me too, but we still need to see some references comparing the strengths/weaknesses between production methods. Though I'd substitute 'cast' for 'machined', or maybe machined/welded forged/cast parts because you can mix and match some of the methods.

          • Its not the forging, its the tempering. Until we have large scale/atomic precision printers (I wouldn't hold my breath for that to arrive) you're printers won't be able to create the mono-crystalline alloys required for modern Jet engines. Huh, that makes me think: a metallic 3-d printer is conceptually a forge turned inside out.
    • by mlts (1038732) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:00PM (#45881643)

      The parts mentioned are needed, but a cover for a cockpit radio [1] are not exactly parts facing extreme wear. If one can sinter the blades for a jet engine damaged by a bird strike, that would be a fundamental technological accomplishment, especially if the blades are balanced and could be installed.

      [1]: The black box data/voice recorder enclosure is a different story.

      • by Guppy (12314)

        If one can sinter the blades for a jet engine damaged by a bird strike, that would be a fundamental technological accomplishment, especially if the blades are balanced and could be installed.

        Printing a turbine blade would be quite an accomplishment, considering that modern blades are often made from a single crystal of Superalloy metal [appropedia.org]

        .

  • by bromoseltzer (23292) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:51PM (#45880883) Homepage Journal
    But those are some expensive radio covers.
    • Yes they are. Given the vast amount of data a pilot, and especially a fighter pilot must process, presenting that data is a science. I have a nice pre-WW II book that shows the lay-out for the airspeed indicator, the artificial horizon and the altimeter, which all had their needles (or tail indicator) horizontal during cruise flight. If you would pull or push the stick, all needles would simultaneously go up or down. It is quite a craft to design a user interface for a fighter pilot. Especially if there's h
  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:57PM (#45880939)

    Get a guaranteed article about it on Wired or some tech site.

    • by netsavior (627338) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:21PM (#45881155)
      I heard someone refer to a Lathe as a 3D printer... and my dentist proudly told me that he got a 3D printer for teeth, then showed me his CNC milling machine.

      I am just waiting for the swiss army knife "3D printer" pocket knife that allows you to "manually 3D print with Cellulose media"
      • by Anonymous Coward

        "3d printers" can be additive- the ubiquitous stratasys or similar, or subtractive (Roland MDX or your dentists new toy). Point is that they are driven like a printer, rather than with cnc programming approaches, do can be used by people who aren't machinists.

        • by mlts (1038732)

          I wonder if it is because sprues are easier to understand than proper tool paths.

          I'm curious which one makes less waste overall. On one hand, the aluminum from a mill can be binned and recycled, while depending on the 3D printer, there is likely less waste, although what waste there is isn't as easily recycled.

      • by Trepidity (597)

        Although I have nothing against the swiss army knife as a manual subtractive 3d-printer for cellulosic media, this kind of 3d printing really doesn't work for situations where you need thin and flexible output. For that I've been looking into a new DIY additive 3d-printing device [wikipedia.org] that is quite promising. The preliminary results are durable enough that they even stand up to extended daily usage in the wearable-technology vertical.

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        Time to find a new dentist. If he doesn't understand his tools, no thanks.

      • I am just waiting for the swiss army knife "3D printer" pocket knife that allows you to "manually 3D print with Cellulose media"

        Now that would be cutting edge technology!

  • It is hoped (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:00PM (#45880971)

    "It is hoped the technology could cut the RAF's maintenance and service bill by over £1.2m over the next four years."

    Yeah it's always hoped that it will save money, yet somehow government contracting just gets more and more expensive every year.

    • by Smauler (915644)

      The UK defense spending is actually stabilising, and is not expected to rise significantly in the next few years. Of course, those in the military spout off about "cuts" everywhere... the fact is, until recently, it was still rising, wages are not increasing significantly in the military, so they must be spending the extra money on something.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      The RAF has had some major cuts over the last few decades. If contractors want to continue getting those contracts they need to get cheaper.

  • by r2kordmaa (1163933) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:04PM (#45881013)
    "The parts include protective covers for cockpit radios and guards for power take-off shafts"

    Sorry but this is simply moronic, these are cheapest possible parts in the airplane - plastic covers for stuff. It doesnt make much of a price difference if you make 100 or 200 of such plastic parts, its the first one that costs you. Once you have made all that were needed for a batch of machines (aircraft in this case) that were actually ordered, you make a little more and store them for spare parts. The main cost here is spare parts storage - something you need to have anyway. Replacting some storage space with a very expencive 3D printer (you really thought they want to use a 300$ one? think again) makes no sense, you get lower quality parts and making them takes longer than it would take for you to get the parts from storage.

    When you get to printing turbine blades - then you are talking business, but for plastic parts.. makes no sense.

    • by similar_name (1164087) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:27PM (#45881217)

      The main cost here is spare parts storage - something you need to have anyway. Replacting some storage space with a very expencive 3D printer (you really thought they want to use a 300$ one? think again) makes no sense, you get lower quality parts and making them takes longer than it would take for you to get the parts from storage.

      The military is considering the logistics of access to storage in a battle. It may be considerably cheaper to take a 3D printer and some material to the front than backups of all your parts. I recall reading somewhere that warships tended to carry 3 replacement parts for everything. Since you never know what's going to break you have to carry much more than necessary. A 3D printer should require much less mass and storage since you only need material for the things that actually break, instead of material for everything that might break. The costs of moving backup lenses in hundreds of styles around a battlefield may make 3D printing them more economically viable.

      • by tapi0 (2805569)
        Not just in battle. Storage is expensive and having to keep multiple spares of every single part in stock at the operating base is expensive - the RAF aim for just-in-time provisioning with parts moved forward just as they're expected to break (based on failure rates and supply history). The aircraft can be on detachment anywhere and it's expensive to ship every single part that might be needed to the temporary detachment location.
        so, as things break like this there's generally a delay in providing (and a
      • The problem here is that 3D printer can only be used to make a very small subset of spare parts. And these are the type that usually dont break. Seriously, radio will give out the genie 10x before the front panel cracks. Plastic parts are usually ornamental in nature, a plane will not be inoperable because there is a scratch or a crack on some plastic part. Unless the platic part is the canopy - and no 3D printer will make you one of these.

        3D printer is a powerful tool for the right job. Like any tool it h

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Of course there are reasons to make spare parts with a 3d printer.

          First of all, one printer can produce any number of spare parts that the material is good enough for.

          Secondly and more importantly, things -- especially in the military, tend to hang around for a long time. It's not unusual for stuff to still be in use when not only the production run has ended, but the original manufacturer has been bought up, met with financial disaster, the tools and jigs necessary to produce the parts have been destroyed,

  • RAF Fighter Flies On Printed Parts

    TFS doesn't sound like any part actually involved in flight was printed. But essentially covers for other parts.

    Now, don't get me wrong, printing your own spare parts sounds good and all -- but I'm willing to bet no piece involved in flight or flight control was actually printed and used in flight just yet.

    In other words, no RAF fighter has actually flown using parts critical to flight, but just caps and covers for other things.

    • by wcrowe (94389)

      I hate the title too, for the same reason. It did get me to read the article, so I guess it served its purpose. I have trouble believing that printed parts can be as strong as traditionally manufactured parts, so I too would be surprised if any critical parts were manufactured this way.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      What makes it significant is not anything in particular about the parts, but the fact they can save over 1 million pounds in the next few years with it. Imagine some airfield in an isolated location... a little plastic cap that would cost 4 cents to mass-produce on an assembly line probably costs ten-thousand times that by the time it goes onto a plane, because it is made in small quantities, procured through some byzantine contracting process, and then shipped around the globe through military logistics
      • by mlts (1038732)

        That is the exact beauty of 3D printing [1]. Assuming one had the proper materials on hand for sintering, that pitot tube (without which one can't do much flying, as one doesn't know how fast the plane is going.) which sheared off can be replaced on site as opposed to waiting days for a part to be mailed, especially if one is at a very remote location.

        For short runs, there is nothing that beats 3D printing. For high-volume items, things can be different, but it seems to have less waste and less dangerous

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      TFS doesn't sound like any part actually involved in flight was printed.

      Here's one made entirely of printed parts [dorsetcereals.com]

      (ducks)

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:19PM (#45881137)

    Heh. I expect within hours to see a bill in the U.S. Senate banning the 3-D printing of fighter planes. Someone might sneak those things through metal detectors, though he might have to do it one piece at a time [youtube.com]. Of course, 3-D printing a fighter plane (rather than just replacement parts for the console) is impractical and printing one that would actually work as a fighter plane is impossible, but the likelihood of someone doing so has never really been the issue.

    If the above statement seems a little exaggerated, I'll confess that it is. But it's no more exaggerated than giving this article the title "RAF Fighter Flies On Printed Parts", when we're just talking about console parts. The original title was, "RAF jets fly with 3D printed parts." I am saddened that the /. version is both less accurate and more sensationalist.

  • Take a look at http://eandt.theiet.org/news/2013/oct/metal-3d-printing.cfm [theiet.org]

    One of the many engineering triangles (design for cost, manufacturability, performance) is slowly getting turned on its head. The manufacturability aspect historically has held back performance and held back cost. With 3d printing, in particular with metals, the cost is volumetric - not complexity or volume driven, and the manufacturability is greatly simplified (needs to be defined in 3d space). This allows the designer of a par

  • The empire has been lost for some time.
    You don't even know how to use TFR.
  • by necro81 (917438) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:52PM (#45881545) Journal
    3D printing has been used for complex parts in aircraft for years. Specifically, some turbine blades have been 3D printed in metal, because they can have internal passages for cooling. It's not quite a net part - the airfoil shape and the retaining dovetail need to be post-machined, but it's a lot faster than the investment casting it replaced.
  • When it comes to aeronautics, liability is a major concern, so the idea of putting in something really new like this is probably a bit conerning to some people, so this is a good way to introduce it: Start by making noncritical components like plastic shields that are mostly cosmetic as a way to test out the technology safely, and gradually expand to new things as the approach is proven.

  • Why launch space station/ship components, especially structural components, into outer space? They're bulky and can be damaged. Instead, launch 3D printer input materials into space and print out the space ship there. Besides, pure materials, such as compressed aluminum powder, can withstand big g-forces so alternate and cheaper launch devices, such as a super gun (the dream of infamous Gerald Bull), can be used.
    • by Firethorn (177587)

      Your idea is neat but we still have a long way to go. Consider that most of those components you're sending up are generally made of numerous disparate layers, chock full of equipment, or failing that full of pipes and other tubing.

      I've proposed having a 'solar smelter' before, but even then I mostly envisioned it being used to convert trash/waste into shielding and/or simple structural materials.

      Astronaught time is too valuable to waste running cables and doing extensive assembly work. Though a 3D printe

  • The tornado GR4 is a bomber, not a fighter. "GR" stands for "ground role". There was an interceptor variant in service, but that was replaced afaik by the typhoon (aka eurofighter).
    • Doh, I hit "post" far too soon. Tornado F3 were the interceptor/fighter variants (F meaning "Fighter" as you might expect). The F3 was retired back in 2012.
    • by Shimbo (100005)

      The tornado GR4 is a bomber, not a fighter.

      BAE, the manufacturers claim it was a Tornado fighter, although they may have tested on another variant.

      • The tornado GR4 is a bomber, not a fighter.

        BAE, the manufacturers claim it was a Tornado fighter, although they may have tested on another variant.

        It may be that they have a few retired F3's left in storage or something, but other than that the tornado is not a fighter. In fact, the tornado was actually designed as a bomber in the first place. Really it was the opposite of what happened with the F-14.

  • So we just lug a 3D printer down to Port Stanley and jobsagoodun!
  • The reverse has been done for quite some time. A CNC routing machine works by trimming material from a block to get the desired shape.

    This is pretty standard.

    I have seen a video from a rebuild of a WWII jet that did use a printed part or two. These were created overnight by a fabrication machine (I think it was at Lockheed) and were used in a nonfunctional component since the jet was rebuilt just to see what the original may have looked like.

    If we look at the two processes, material removal and material dep

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