BAE Systems is a company with big ideas. The British aerospace, defense and security corporation has come up with some far-out technological concepts before, such as chemical vats that can “grow” drones and onboard aircraft 3D printers. While realization of ideas like those may be quite a few years off, BAE Systems has just given themselves a boost in terms of advanced technology with the opening of their New Product and Process Development Centre (NPPDC) in Samlesbury, Lancashire. The center will be dedicated, in particular, to the use of additive manufacturing and virtual reality to reduce costs and speed up manufacturing for several military aircraft.
BAE Systems technicians with 3D printed aircraft parts
BAE Systems has been using additive manufacturing technology for two decades, but they’ve recently ramped up their 3D printing efforts significantly. In 2016, BAE Systems 3D printed more than 2,500 components, a 20% increase over the previous year. According to the company, they’ve been printing aircraft parts out of titanium and nylon, using selective laser melting (SLM) and selective laser sintering (SLS), respectively.
The NPPDC isn’t just an additive manufacturing center, though – it also features a virtual reality suite where engineers can virtually test and assess parts before prototyping and fabricating them.
“We’ve got a ramping F-35 programme that demands a drum beat manufacturing system be put in place. We’ve also got… Typhoons moving into the export marketplace, and it’s about how do we respond to the challenges of those programmes,” said John Dunston, head of the NPPDC at BAE Systems. “Our raison d’être really is to establish a productionised suite of processes that we can then either deploy to a programme or run as a shared service within the facility, or…look at how we can support the industrialisation activities and potentially deploy solutions in Coventry in support of [land system] programmes.”
Meanwhile, St. Louis-based Emerson just opened an advanced additive manufacturing center at their Singapore location – the company’s second location to have additive manufacturing capabilities. Emerson, a global technology and engineering company, launched their additive manufacturing business three years ago with the opening of their first AM center in Marshalltown, Iowa. The two centers will both work on research and development and pilot production services for all of the company’s businesses around the world.
“This Singapore center, along with our Marshalltown center, will play a key role in helping Emerson move quickly to leverage the benefits of additive manufacturing to meet our customers’ needs in Asia Pacific and around the world,” said David Farr, chairman and CEO of Emerson. “We greatly appreciate the support of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), which has been a great partner and gave us the confidence to make the investment here.”
The new center in Singapore will specifically focus on the production of custom and application-specific parts that are impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing methods. According to Emerson, they chose Singapore as the location for the new additive manufacturing center because of its solid manufacturing and business ecosystem, strong intellectual property protection laws, and high-quality, educated workforce and university system. As we’ve seen, Singapore’s 3D printing industry has also been growing steadily over the past couple of years, and a lot of that has to do with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, which the university opened last year.
In conjunction with the opening of their new additive manufacturing center, Emerson has also partnered with NTU for a five-year research collaboration. Under the terms of the agreement, postgraduate students from the university will be able to get real-world, hands-on training at the new center while helping the company carry out product research.
“We are pleased to partner with Emerson in the opening of its new additive manufacturing center, which will help enhance Singapore’s standing as an internationally recognized hub for high-tech manufacturing excellence,” said Lim Kok Kiang, assistant managing director of the Singapore Economic Development Board. “This global center will not only raise our international competitiveness, but also contribute towards the grooming of skilled Singaporean talent in the area of advanced manufacturing.”