BAE Systems to use 3D printing for commercial MRO business

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European regulators have approved a cabin interior spare part, for BAE Systems 146 regional jets, that was produced through 3D printing technology after the original component became unavailable.

Engineers at BAE Systems’ Warton, UK site developed an additive manufacturing process for small breather pipes, which are installed in the aircraft’s cabin window assembly as vents to prevent condensation on the internal windows panes.

The plastic pipes were originally produced using an injection moulding process, but the tooling for that method is no longer available.

While the development of new tooling would have taken “several months”, the aftermarket support unit for BAE Systems’ legacy aircraft says engineers were able to produce a prototype of the pipe within two weeks.

Production costs for the individual pipes are 60% lower compared with the traditional injection moulding process, and additional costs are saved by removing the need to build bespoke tools, says BAE Systems.

After the pipe gained European Aviation Safety Agency approval, an external 3D printing specialist fabricated a batch of the part.

BAE Systems is now evaluating employment of the technique to produce spare parts for a number of different commercial aircraft types, says Philip Beard, structures support manager.

The says the technology “may not be the solution for every part, but where appropriate, it provides a faster route from design to completed parts”.

BAE Systems has employed 3D printing to produce maintenance equipment for the UK Royal Air Force’s Panavia Tornado GR4 fleet as well as a component used in an external pod on the tactical aircraft.