GKN Aerospace has been improving production times and removing design constraints for multiple tooling applications since integrating additive manufacturing at its Filton manufacturing site in the UK. GKN serves over 90 per cent of the world’s aircraft and engine manufacturers with aerostructures, engine systems and technologies.

According to Tim Hope, Additive Manufacturing Center Manager, at GKN Aerospace, the company decided to invest in the Stratasys F900 Production 3D Printer in a bid to cut lead times for production-line tools, and to create complex parts, impossible to make with traditional manufacturing methods. “We can now cost-effectively produce tools for our operators within three hours,” he noted. “This saves critical production time, and by printing in engineering-grade thermoplastics, we can produce 3D printed tools with repeatable, predictable quality every time. All while matching the quality of a traditionally-produced tool, and reducing the costs and concessions compared to equivalent metallic tooling.

“Since integrating the F900, we have dramatically reduced production-line downtime for certain teams and are enjoying a newfound freedom to design complex tools,” he continued.

While GKN Aerospace is using a standard thermoplastic today, it is experimenting with Stratasys’ high-strength, heat-resistant ULTEM™ 1010 Resin material for these applications.

“One of the key benefits of additive manufacturing is the creative freedom this technology affords users,” explains Hope. “The F900 offers the largest build-size of any FDM 3D printer enabling us to rapidly produce tools to meet any requirements. Most notably, complex geometries and cavities that would otherwise be problematic are now practical with the F900. We’re utilising it to design, and 3D print, previously inconceivable tools that enable us to manufacture complex parts that are uneconomical or just physically impossible by other methods.”

In addition to design freedom benefits, GKN Aerospace has also seen a 40 per cent decrease in material waste. Hope anticipates a greater move towards the use of FDM additive manufacturing to produce high-value, flight-critical, end-use composite parts.