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Novel method to speed up output of aircraft engines


London: Complex-shaped components in aircraft engines can be produced quickly and at a reasonable price using selective laser melting, a new study says.

Aircraft engine components must perform under extreme conditions. They must rotate more than 1,000 times in a single second, withstanding temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Celsius and extreme pressures.

At the same time, they should be as lightweight as possible and yet satisfy the most stringent standards for safety.

Given all of these factors, the tasks of developing and servicing aircraft engines pose major challenges for engineers.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) in Aachen, Germany, use selective laser melting (SLM).

With this method, the part can be built up, layer by layer, on a building platform using a powder-based material. In essence, this process is comparable to that of a computer printer, except that it takes place in three dimensions.

Based on computer-generated design data for the planned part, the metal powder is applied to the appropriate areas of the substrate and then immediately melted into place with a high-power laser beam.

“With this process we can not only make perfect repairs to damaged engine parts but also build complete components that cannot be produced using conventional methods such as milling or casting,” said Konrad Wissenbach of ILT.

In the future, this will mean savings of up to 50 percent of the material required, and at least 40 percent of repair costs, said an ILT release.

Wissenbach is coordinator of the 6.5 million euro, EU-sponsored FANTASIA project – an acronym standing for “flexible and near-net-shaped generative manufacturing chains and repair techniques for complex shaped aero engine parts”.

The project will conclude at the end of May. ILT researchers briefed the world of experts on the findings the project has generated at the 8th International Laser Technology Congress AKL’10 May 5-7 in Germany.