3d printers

3D printers overcome supply problems

CNE Engineering relies on BigRep machines to 3D print molds to produce the lacquering equipment needed by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to safely store planes on the ground during Covid. Aerospace Manufacturing reports.

BigRep, a global leader in large format 3D printing solutions, helps customers bypass traditional supply chains and produce large-scale parts for aircraft maintenance.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic halted most travel, leading to the immediate grounding of 62% of passenger planes. Aircraft engines must be protected from the elements when parked for long periods of time, and standard procedures call for covers to prevent damage from moisture and other objects. With many aircraft suddenly grounded, SAS did not have the necessary inventory of engine cowlings, exhaust plugs, etc. protect their fleet.

SAS determined that shortening the supply chain was key – leveraging more locally available resources. They considered 3D printing solutions, but needed a big enough technology to produce engine exhaust covers. SAS turned to CNE Engineering, a local specialist supplier using BigRep 3D printers, to find a solution. Engine exhaust covers should withstand high temperatures, have chemical and UV resistance, and be flexible enough not to damage the engine during removal and installation. Based on these requirements, castable urethane, a widely available and inexpensive material, would be the best option.

“There was an opportunity to not only meet their need for this tool that they couldn’t acquire through the normal supply chain, but we also saw the opportunity to improve it,” says the managing director of CNE, Nathan Brown.

Faster lead times

CNE planned to use its two BigRep machines to 3D print molds to produce several castings. The cubic meter build volume of the BigRep ONE could accommodate the full-scale main room. BigRep’s STUDIO was a perfect choice to print the small features, like removable mold inserts. CNE used various BigRep materials for different parts: bio-based PLX for the outer shells, HI-TEMP CF for the central core and TPU for the insert molds. Using large format 3D printing, CNE was able to meet SAS’s time requirements as tooling was printed in days and molds only required a few hours.

CNE’s Nathan Brown working on BigRep BLADE Slicer

“There are so many things that go into aircraft maintenance that you don’t see. Technology is something SAS embraces,” says SAS Production Engineer Jason Deadman.

Within two months of the kick-off meeting, SAS received its initial order. CNE’s success with its BigRep machines shows the full range of what 3D printing offers: rapid production, design flexibility, low volume, low cost and minimal waste.

Peter Smeets, Chairman of the Board of BigRep and Managing Director of 360 Aircraft Finance, concludes: “This case study is a shining example of how BigRep’s large format 3D printers are already changing the game in MRO. aerospace. We believe this is just the beginning and that 3D printed solutions will become the benchmark for cost effective custom manufacturing without traditional supply chain issues.