Taking advantage of the potential of the extrusion of large format materials in transportation

Taking advantage of the potential of the extrusion of large format materials in transportation
Taking advantage of the potential of the extrusion of large format materials in transportation

Large format material extrusion solutions have carved out a legitimate niche for themselves among traditional manufacturing methods. In the ever-evolving manufacturing landscape, large format solutions have emerged as formidable contenders, confidently asserting their place alongside traditional methods. These robust systems, once considered niche, are now going strong, addressing application challenges that have long eluded their conventional counterparts.

Next-generation manufacturing experts recognize the power of material extrusion. With maturity and conviction, they turn to these systems to address complex problems that traditional methods have difficulty solving. Take the aerospace and transportation sectors as an example. The demand for intricate, lightweight, yet structurally sound pieces has increased with the arrival of cutting-edge designs. In this case, material extrusion offers a new perspective and innovative solutions.

Large 3D printed parts for machining applications. (Credits: John Crockerill)

In highly regulated sectors, such as transportation or aerospace, efficiency and safety are essential in all phases of production. At the same time, weight is also critically important. For every gram saved, there are immediate results in terms of fuel efficiency, increased payload capacity and lower operating costs. But how to combine this need for lightness with security? Large-format industrial 3D printing with open source materials emerged as the answer to meeting safety requirements and certifications, such as fire-resistant parts.

Although traditional methods have their advantages, they often fall short when it comes to complex geometries and weight optimization. The extrusion of materials, on the other hand, thrives in this area. By layering thermoplastic materials with precision, he creates pieces that defy convention. These components not only meet safety standards, but also push the limits of what is possible.

Take, for example, machining. Although it has its advantages, using it to create complex aluminum panels for aircraft interiors is time-consuming. It is also expensive and wasteful, since it involves significant material disposal. Casting, another popular traditional method, is more suitable for producing complex shapes such as engine hoods, but it has its own disadvantages. Weight reduction is difficult with this process and it is almost impossible to achieve specific flame retardant properties. Both options are quite limiting for end-use parts. This is where additive manufacturing, and especially large format material extrusion, has a role to play.

Large format 3D printing in the aerospace and transportation sector

In the aerospace industry, where weight is key, material extrusion shines. Produces lightweight components without compromising strength. From intricate ductwork to cabin interiors, these 3D printed parts redefine the art of engineering. Likewise, in railway applications, material extrusion contributes to fuel efficiency, reducing overall weight while maintaining durability. Additionally, it has proven to be the preferred manufacturing method for low-volume production and replacement of obsolete parts.

Large-format FDM 3D printing, especially with engineered materials, is a more cost-effective way to create lightweight, large-format, flame-retardant parts for these highly regulated industries. This is due to a series of advantages that these technologies offer. Among others, flexibility, design customization, lightening through the use of lighter materials and optimization of the piece, and versatility of materials stand out. And there have already been cases that demonstrate precisely this.

Large-scale 3D printing is often used in the railway sector. (Credits: OMNI3D)

Take the aerospace sector as an example. The Airbus company turned to 3D printing to take advantage of its flexibility and produce complex geometries with intricate designs that would be difficult or impossible using traditional methods. Proof of this was the choice of material extrusion to create lightweight air ducts with optimized internal flow channels for its A350 XWB aircraft. In this way they achieved both a weight reduction and an improvement in aerodynamic performance.

Going further, large-format 3D printing is expected to facilitate the creation of large, complex end parts for high-speed trains, airplanes, and even automobiles. But this is not the only application. FDM 3D printing can be used for everything from small batch production for prototyping or testing to replacing obsolete parts. The latter has proven to be especially important in the railway sector. Additive manufacturing is ideal for creating replacement parts for obsolete components that are no longer manufactured or no longer meet safety requirements.

Paving the way to standardization and certification

Still, for these industries, safety remains paramount. This is where any large format 3D printing solution is not enough. Rather, open systems are most likely to pave the way for more end-use 3D printed parts in the transportation, aerospace, and automotive sectors.

An open system is one in which materials other than those from a specific manufacturer can be used. The advantage, of course, is that it is possible to print with a wider range of materials and even with updated materials. This includes materials that have been certified specifically for these sectors to meet safety standards.

Certified materials are approved by regulatory bodies such as the FAA or EASA in aviation or national and European organizations that monitor standardization and regulations for railways. Recently, there has been a large movement towards the development of certified materials compatible with additive manufacturing through companies such as Nanovia, whose expertise is focused on materials that meet safety standards for the railway sector. But as materials innovation continues, open systems are needed to future-proof FDM machines in these sectors, while representing an excellent investment. This is something that companies like Omni3D, a pioneer in large-scale industrial FDM 3D printing, are well known for.

With its open source systems, the company ensures that these solutions find their rightful place in manufacturing plants in highly regulated markets. Whether it’s aerospace, automotive or rail transportation, open systems adapt quickly, integrating seamlessly with existing workflows and safety regulations. This is the case of the NF EN 24424-2 standard, which was adopted to guarantee the transport of passengers by rail with limits on fire-related risks. Thus, it is clear that industrial FDM 3D printing is the important new technology for these sectors in the coming years.

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