Revolutionary 3D metal production process developed at Cranfield

The 3D printing process, also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), enables the manufacture of large structural parts at significantly reduced time and cost constraints when compared to existing methods. 

Virtually any shape can be created through a process of adding successive layers of material in different shapes. Traditional machining techniques mostly rely on the removal of material through cutting or drilling, creating more wastage.

One of the largest 3D metal parts in the UK has now been produced as a result of the research. Designed by BAE Systems engineers, the part measures 1.2m in length and is made of titanium. Known as a spar section, the part forms a main structural element of the aircraft wing structure and took just 37 hours to build from a digital model, where previously this process would have taken weeks.

The manufacture of the part used a specific kind of 3D printing known as Wire+Arc Additive Manufacture (WAAM).

Professor Stewart Williams, who leads the project for Cranfield University and member of the Centre in Laser-based Production Processes, said “This is an exciting technology with huge potential for the aerospace industry. Cranfield is renowned for its close working relationships with industry partners and this is an excellent example. We will continue working with BAE Systems to improve the process and develop additional parts and processes that can be applied commercially.”