For the first time, aerospace company Saab and 3D printing consortium AMEXCI has successfully conducted a trial of an exterior 3D printed part on the fighter jet Gripen. According to SAAB’s press release, the purpose of the trial is to test how 3D printing can be used in battlefield damage repair.
3D printing of spare parts is still in its infancy, but the potential is huge. Across several industries, companies are now looking in to how to create digital warehousing and manufacturing workflows to cut lead times and optimize supply chain. One such company is PostNord, who already now offer customers a 3D printing order service for spare parts.
The fighter jet was fitted with a replacement hatch that had been 3D printed using a nylon polymer called PA2200. This work is a step towards 3D printed spares being used for rapid repairs to fighter aircraft that have sustained damage while deployed on remote operations, thereby gaining a vital time-saving advantage.
3D scanning enabled exact 3D printed copy
Since there was no 3D computer model of the original hatch, it was removed from the aircraft and put in a scanner. This process in turn enabled 3D printing of an exact copy, tailor-made to this individual aircraft.
To achieve the goal of deploying this capability, further testing is required along with agreements on material standards.
This milestone is the latest step in Saab’s embrace of additive manufacturing. In 2017 Saab co-founded the AMEXCI consortium for the specific purpose of furthering the technology, and Saab has been working with AMEXCI’s experts ever since to find new applications and ways to produce parts and equipment using additive manufacturing.
The next step for Saab and AMEXCI is to look at alternative materials to PA2200, ones that are also flexible and can withstand the cold at high altitudes. They will also progress a container solution so that printing equipment can be taken on deployments.