EADS Innovation Works has taken a lead role in the new production concept, which takes two-dimensional layers of computer data and rebuilds them into three-dimensional solid objects through the deposition of material in incremental stages.
With the ALM 3-D 'printing', very complex geometries can be produced rapidly and directly from computer-aided design (CAD) information without the need for dies, form tools or molds. Additionally, ALM utilises significantly less raw material for any given component and produces negligible levels of waste in comparison to traditional machining processes, in which up to 90% of the material is removed.
EADS Innovation Works has already made ALM-produced components airborne, including aerodynamically profiled cooling ducts that were successfully used on an Airbus test aircraft during more than 120 flight hours of hot-weather trials.
Also produced with the ALM process was an air intake baffle for a small aircraft flown in competitive air races. Replacing a relatively crude and aerodynamically inefficient wire mesh baffle, the new ALM-produced component incorporated staggered vanes to improve flow quality and minimise losses, as well as utilising a geometry that was difficult – if not impossible – to manufacture by any other means. The new air baffle was built in a process that took five days, from the CAD specifications to a ready-to-install component.