Smaller and Lighter Wins the Race – Redesigning with AM


Aya Bentur  

Airbus Helicopters Additively Manufactured Latch Shaft for Door

The reduction of carbon dioxide emission is a major issue these days, it touches almost every sector, especially transportation. The race for emission reduction in all sectors of transportation is not only due to environmental issues, the cost of fuel is, of course, is a driving factor along with it the rising policies for emission reduction. Companies are investing in reducing emission in a number of ways, one of them is creating smaller and lighter parts with the use of additive manufacturing. These parts might be a small piece of the puzzle but each part can go a long way.
Vehicles of all kinds, cars, trains, and airplanes emit carbon dioxide, and according to EU’s Clean Sky, air travel alone is responsible for 2% of global emissions. As flights become cheaper and more accessible, air traffic continues to grow and with it the amount of carbon emission. With the amount of air travel doubling every 15 years, the reduction is becoming one of the industry’s missions. Substitute fuels, such as biofuels, are being explored as well as electric power and hybrid engines. In order to meet the conclusions made at the Paris Climate Agreement, every change implemented matters, every additively manufactured lightweight part incorporated in a vehicle can contribute.

Each Part Matters

Shock absorbers are used in vehicles to reduce unwanted kinetic energy. This specific shock absorber (below) was redesigned by Covestro for the automotive industry. The small part is additively manufactured using 3 different materials and processes, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) with TPU powder, FDM with polycarbonate filament, and Digital Light Processing (DLP) with PUR resin.

3D Printed Shock Absorber - Photo via Covestro

NASA has also been working on reducing the weight of its rockets and shuttle engines with additively manufactured parts. One of those parts is the pogo accumulator which functions as a shock absorber. By using selective laser melting (SLM) NASA managed to reduce the number of welds in the original part by 78%, reducing welds reduces the weight and potentially strengthens the part (below a technician inspecting the 3D printed pogo accumulator assembly on an RS-25 development engine. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne).

An Aerojet Rocketdyne technician inspects the 3D printed pogo accumulator assembly on an RS-25 development engine. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne

It Adds Up

One part can make a difference but, let’s not be naive, it takes much more than that to reach an environmental effect. These parts must reach commercial widespread use to really reduce carbon emission. 2 recent examples are the door latch by Airbus Helicopters and the fuel nozzle by GE. Airbus Helicopters is now additively manufacturing latch shafts (up top) for the doors of the A350 passenger aircraft. The shaft is made in titanium using an EOS Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion. According to the company, the AM part is 45% lighter than the original, 16 shafts per plane adds up to a weight reduction of 4kg per aircraft, and with plans to deliver 2200 parts per year, even a door latch can impact carbon emissions. GE Aviation reached a milestone with it’s famous additively manufactured fuel nozzle. 30,000 fuel nozzles tips have been manufactured on GE’s 40 machines making the nozzle not just a testament to the possible application of AM but a testament to its commercial use. The work on the part began as a collaboration between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines who set to reduce fuel consumption as well as emissions in aircraft. The fuel nozzle was redesigned for AM resulting in increased efficiency in a part that is 25% lighter than an ordinary nozzle. That weight reduction multiplied by 30,000 (produced so far is) has a direct effect on fuel consumption – reducing emission and cutting costs.

The Weight of Power

Switching to electrical power is another alternative to reduce emissions, yet the major challenge is again the weight. Batteries able to power a plane, for example, are very heavy, and the more weight the more power needed. A recent article by the Financial Times explores the potential of electric power in aviation, in light of the pressure on the industry to take action regarding the growing emissions problem. While electric powered aircraft is more of a challenge, cars and trains are currently a more viable option. Here again, AM can play a role in reducing weight where possible.

According to “Because GE is aiming to make a battery-diesel hybrid train, the company is working to make the diesel engine smaller through the use of 3D printing, in order to increase the space needed for batteries during the train’s battery-only operation in urban and environmentally sensitive areas.” The company believes it can additively manufacture 250 different locomotive parts by 2025.

The Need for Speed

If you want to reduce emission on a personal scale, riding a bicycle is the way to go. And if you’re doing it professionally, lighter and smaller wins the race. For the Ironman World Championship, Swiss Side, Canyon and Sauber Engineering have customized an aero cockpit according to Patrick Lange arm and shape position using metal 3D printing. The initiative called project 101 will be used by Lange in the 2018 Kona Ironman World Championships on October 13th.

3D Printed Ironman - Swiss Side, Canyon and Sauber Engineering

Latch shafts or tips of fuel nozzles might seem like insignificant parts, but with carbon emissions constantly raising every part that can be made smaller, lighter and more efficient with the help of AM is crucial in environmental and financial aspects.

Have you encountered or have you been involved in the development of smaller and lighter parts in transportation? Tell us about it in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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