3D Printed Soluble Cores Reduce Helicopter Blade Prototype Tooling by 70%
3D Printing Case – Aerospace
Automated Dynamics has worked with customers for 30 years to create innovative composite structures using high-performance automation equipment, while meeting some of the biggest manufacturing demands in the aerospace, automotive, defense, and petroleum industries.
Working with Stratasys FDM-based (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D Printing, the team at Automated Dynamics used a 3D printed soluble core application to deliver a robust composite prototype of a helicopter blade, saving 60-70% in tooling costs while speeding up the process considerably.
Traditional ceramic or metal cores result in high tooling costs
According to Automated Dynamics’ Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Ralph Marcario, the engineering team discovered that sacrificial cores made of traditional ceramic or metal material resulted in extremely high tooling costs.
Additionally, they were unable to achieve the level of complexity possible with additive manufacturing. So when a large aerospace client placed an urgent order for a 4 foot helicopter blade, Automated Dynamics’ engineers turned to FDM soluble cores.
The tedious, multi-step process of sacrificial cores often requires clamshell tooling and bonding processes, resulting in weakened parts, limited geometries, and long production lead times.
In contrast, Stratasys’ FDM soluble cores allow manufacturers to achieve complex parts, faster, with limited overhead costs or harsh removal processes. By reversing the materials in the normal 3D printing process, the support model is 3D printed with the thermoplastic material, while the core is made with the soluble breakaway support. Once the thermoplastic support is removed, the desired composite material is wrapped and cured over the soluble part and placed in water to dissolve the core.
Turnaround times from 5-6 weeks down to about a week
The helicopter blade tool was 3D printed on a Fortus 400mc 3D Production System. SR-100 soluble support was chosen for its ability to withstand high temperature environments (up to 120° C) during the curation process.
The composite part was dissolved within 24 hours and altogether, FDM soluble cores accelerated tooling turnaround from 5-6 weeks as generally seen with metallic tooling to about a week.
Tooling with FDM requires less hands on time
“There is often significant engineering design that needs to happen when metallic tooling is chosen, but in the case of choosing tooling with FDM there is less hands-on time involved,” said John Michasiow, mechanical design engineer and program manager assigned of Automated Dynamics. “In some cases metallic tooling may not even be an option. Our estimated tooling cost savings was around 60-70% at minimum.”
3D printing has radically changed the way many industries think and operate. For Automated Dynamics, additive manufacturing solutions like FDM soluble cores have enhanced their ability to meet complex challenges and deliver faster results.