Pratt & Whitney is taking the next step in the evolution of 3D printing and product distribution in relation to turbomachinery components.
The company is a subdivision of United Technologies Corporation, with a focus on designing, manufacturing and servicing aircraft and helicopter engines.
A major team will be involved with the project, which includes Norsk Titanium, TURBOCAM International and the Notre Dame Turbomachinery Laboratory. These entities will work together to discover whether the Rapid Plasma Deposition material from Norsk Titanium can be used within turbomachinery applications.
The project marks the first time that an additively manufactured rotating part will be developed by Pratt & Whitney. If the project is successful, it is very likely that a 3D printed part will make its way into one or more of the engines designed and manufactured by the company.
Rapid Plasma Deposition Material
The Rapid Plasma Deposition, or RPD, process is said to use a titanium wire featuring plasma torches. Large titanium structural components are built at a rate that is 50 to 100 times faster than power-based 3D printing systems.
Testing is also underway for a 3D printed, integrally bladed rotor, or IBR. The goal is to ensure the part meets the required standards for Pratt & Whitney, so the company can use it within its current turbomachinery.
Pratt & Whitney – Leader in 3D Printing Applications
Additive manufacturing is not a new venture for Pratt & Whitney, as the company has more than 30 years of history with 3D printing. The company first began working on additive manufacturing in the 1980s.
While most of the 3D printing work at Pratt & Whitney centered around prototypes and models used for in-company testing, the company has veered in the direction of using additive manufacturing in their commercial engines.
In 2015, the company took a significant step in that direction by announcing the first ever parts using metal 3D printing were being produced for its PW1500G engines. These engines are used as part of the Bombardier CSeries aircraft. The company was able to complete the entire additive process in its own factories and manufacturing locations.
How Are Additive Engine Parts Constructed?
Since Pratt & Whitney has complete control of the entire 3D printing process, they are able to streamline the workflow. An advance design is thought up by the design team, which makes its way to the engineers responsible for additive manufacturing.
Those engineers work on creating CAD files for the parts. The next step is to finalize the build files. Orientation, layout and other factors must be finalized before any part is sent for 3D printing.
When the machine parameters are finalized, the layout is split up into individual layers. When the build file with all the layers is completed, it is time to start manufacturing. That step also takes place in house.
Files are input into the 3D printer; the appropriate materials are added to ensure proper quality and the printing begins. Processes must be repeated many times, ensuring each layer comes out precisely in the intended manner.
Future is Bright for 3D Printing
The appeal of additive manufactured components is two-fold. The turnaround time for 3D printing a component significantly less than manufacturing the same component using standard methods. The second advantage is that 3D printing can produce advanced designs that were almost impossible to make using traditional manufacturing.
The impact of 3D printing is not limited to the engine manufacturing industry. Companies will soon be able to order and have 3D printed components delivered to them, using a network being launched by UPS. It shows that industries such as 3D printing and trucking logistics will be interlinked in a way that many did not imagine a few years ago.
Meanwhile, 3D printing enthusiasts are eagerly anticipating the outcome of Pratt & Whitey’s latest additive manufacturing venture. Additive manufactured rotating parts in aircraft engines could soon become a reality.