Thermwood and Boeing 3D print 12-foot-long single-piece tool for 777X program

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Oct 10, 2018 | By Thomas

Boeing has teamed up with Thermwood Corporation, an Indiana-based manufacturing specialist, to produce a large, 3D printed single-piece tool for Boeing’s 777X program. The project demonstrates that additive manufacturing is ready to produce large production quality tooling parts for the aerospace industry.

Introduced back in September 2011, the Boeing 777X is designed to be a stretched version of the current 777-300ER variant with a lower gross weight for fuel economy and a higher capacity for better payloads. Boeing announced two variants, The 777-8 and 777-9, for development. To achieve a lower gross weight, Boeing announced that it would incorporate carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer that was used with success on the 787 aircrafts.

Thermwood used a Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) machine and newly developed Vertical Layer Print (VLP) 3D printing technology to fabricate the tool as a one-piece print. LSAM is the industry’s first line of extrusion 3D printers with built-in CNC machining capabilities. The machine uses a two-step, near-net-shape production process and is intended for the production of large scale components.

Each LSAM machine includes both a 3D printing gantry and a second trim gantry that is actually a five-axis CNC router. The part is first 3D printed slightly oversized and then trimmed to final size and shape using a CNC router. The process operates in free space and does not require molds or tooling. The machines have a ten-foot-wide, five-foot-high work envelope, with the length adjustable between ten and 100+ feet. LSAM provides both print and trim on the same machine and can print both horizontally and vertically.

In the joint demonstration program with Boeing, Thermwood 3D printed and trimmed the 12-foot-long (3.66-meter-long) R&D tool at its southern Indiana demonstration lab and delivered it to Boeing in August 2018. The part was intended to eliminate the additional cost and schedule required for assembly of multiple 3D printed tooling components.

The tool was 3D printed as a single piece from 20% carbon fiber reinforced ABS using the Vertical Layer Print system. Boeing also purchased a Thermwood LSAM machine with the VLP functionality for the Interiors Responsibility Center (IRC) facility in Everett, Washington.

The ability to quickly produce large-scale tooling at a quality level suitable for a real world production environment represents a significant step in moving additive manufacturing from the laboratory to the factory floor.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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