3D printer company to develop aerospace-grade materials for US Air Force jets

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3D printer company Essentium has been awarded a contract by the US Air Force to develop and deploy an additive manufacturing solution that produces parts and tooling for military aircraft.

The multi-year collaborative contract aims to increase  production using additive manufacturing (AM) and develop certified materials that produce consistent quality AM parts fast and at a reasonable cost.

This contract is part of over US$550 million recently deployed through the inaugural Strategic Financing (STRATFi) initiative to identify and advance technologies which have the potential to protect and advance the future dominance of the US Air Force and its airmen.

The US Air Force is under constant pressure to accelerate aircraft repairs, reduce costs, and get aircraft back in the air quickly but faces challenges with obsolescence, often forcing engineers and technicians to cannibalize parts from the aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

AM could help address these production, supply chain and procurement challenges  with rapid part production at the point of use and by decreasing the time required to certify new materials for use in flight. As part of the project, engineers will develop drop-in replacements for MIL-spec materials such as phenolics. The team will aim to certify four times the quantity of materials in dramatically less time and cost compared with incumbent solutions currently available to the U.S. Air Force.

Nathan Parker, deputy PEO of the rapid sustainment office, US Air Force said, “Essentium demonstrated it has the expertise and capabilities to create parts with consistent replication using the Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform. We will work together to drive additive manufacturing technology forward; for faster aircraft repairs that massively reduces time to deliver parts to keep our war fighters ready.”

Elisa Teipel, chief development officer and co-founder of Essentium said,  “The sky is the limit for the potential benefits of additive manufacturing for the US Air Force. As well as reducing operating costs by tens of millions, the strategic capability we will work with our STRATFi partners to deliver through this program will help bring about an end to the scenario of days of aircraft sitting on tarmac awaiting simple replacement parts which may be 3D printed and can get them flying again.

“We are beyond thrilled to be awarded this contract and work with our government customers to help drive significant advancement in military parts manufacturing and advance the U.S. Air Force’s military leadership.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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