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Boeing leading way in new technological demand

Dec 22, 2016 | 12:15 PM | Frank Haflich

Boeing has evaluated all categories of additive metals, including large wire-fed systems, direct metal deposition and powder bed and feed.

Boeing Co. is ready to take the next big step in metal additive manufacturing (AM).

“We are currently working with the machine providers and putting the building blocks in place to enter into full scale production by the fourth quarter 2017,” Leo Christodoulou, enterprise additive manufacturing strategy leader for the Chicago-based aerospace company, told AMM.

Full-scale production for Boeing, Christodoulou says, means “the just-in-time delivery of components to support production rates.”

Christodoulou didn’t say how much equipment the move to full-scale AM production would involve, or what AM technologies will prevail. But he emphasizes that Boeing has evaluated “all categories of additive metals, including large wire-fed systems, direct metal deposition systems and powder bed and feed systems.”

While he didn’t detail Boeing’s evaluation, part of its overall AM assessment might involve Norsk Titanium AS’s “Rapid Plasma Deposition” process. In July, Oslo, Norway-based Norsk Titanium said it received an order for titanium engineering test articles produced by its process from Boeing. Terms of the purchase order, which involved Norsk Titanium producing titanium 6Aluminum/4Vanadium preforms, were not disclosed.

Boeing already has over 150 additive machines “strategically located to support every production line at the Boeing campus.” Christodoulou points out that the Boeing research and technology site in St. Louis includes a “center of excellence” that houses capabilities in metals, polymers and composites.

He notes that there are currently “several suppliers that have the capacity in place” to support the powder bed process.

“The larger machines and component suppliers are working with us to put facilities and capacity to support fourth-quarter production in 2017,” he says.

Boeing started research and development on AM, or 3D printing, in 1997, and currently has about 50,000 3D-printed parts flying on its aerospace products. Christodoulou didn’t disclose how many of these are metal, although outsiders believe the vast majority of AM parts to date have been polymers or plastics.

Boeing’s metals AM research is focused on “applications that offer challenges in the supply chain,” Christodoulou says.