Cutting the environmental costs of aero engine parts manufacturing, increasing freedom in their design and reducing fuel consumption and contaminating gas emissions are some of the benefits resulting from applying modern additive manufacturing techniques to the aircraft industry.
In this context, IK4 R&D Alliance is participating in the ambitious European Merlin project led by the multinational Rolls-Royce, with the aim of bringing the technological advances of metal components laser based additive manufacturing to aero engine market. In fact, the conclusions of the work developed will be presented on December 11 during a conference to be held at IK4-LORTEK facilities in the Basque town of Ordizia.
The traditional methods used to manufacture aero engine parts currently involve the use of material removal techniques, which create scrap in highly significant quantities, higher, the higher is the complexity of the geometry to be produced.
One of the objectives of Merlin researchers is to show that additive manufacturing techniques like selective laser melting (SLM) and laser metal deposition (LMD) can be applied to manufacture engine parts and thus contribute in the reduction of air transport environmental impact.
The head of the project at IK4, Jaime Ochoa, maintains that the use of these technologies makes possible the design of optimized structures with more complex geometries due to their great freedom of design. That way it is possible to manufacture components with a high material use efficiency, because it is used "wherever it is needed".
Ochoa maintains that right now the aero industry's buy-to-fly ratio, the parameter that indicates the relation between the weight of the final part and the amount of material needed to obtain the geometry, is very high. To illustrate this, he explained that, according to Rolls-Royce data, to produce a 7-tonne engine, it is necessary to start from an initial quantity of 28 tonnes, which means that 75% of the material is wasted.
Within Merlin project, IK4 is focused on the development of processes to manufacture parts in specific materials and on the validation of manufacturing methodologies, design and powder reuse, among others.
"Changing the rules of design"
The researcher believes that applying additive manufacturing processes at industrial level will make possible to manufacture new shapes that are unattainable using traditional methods, and to produce lighter structures without any loss in efficiency, and even "to change the rules of design". "Additive manufacturing technologies allow greater design freedom," he pointed out.
In addition to IK4, the consortium of companies and R&D centres working on the Merlin project include Rolls-Royce, GKN, MTU, Turbomeca and ITP, among others.
The project, which has a duration of four years and will end on December 31, has got a total budget of seven million euros. The European Commission has provided 4.8 million euros within the 7th Framework Programme.
IK4 is one of the top European players in the field of Advanced Manufacturing and the Intelligent Factory, and is committed to incorporate technology to achieve a computerized version of the factory in which all its processes are connected and interact with each other; this in turn contributes decisive added value to be able to compete with lower-cost economies.
Proof of this lies in the fact that IK4 is participating in 20 European projects within the Factories of the Future (FoF) initiative, which have provided it with European funding worth 14.5 million euros. It should be pointed out that Advanced Manufacturing has been earmarked by the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community (region) as one of the cornerstones in its strategy for intelligent specialisation in the Basque Autonomous Community (RIS3).
The IK4 R&D Alliance brings together nine Basque R&D centres (AZTERLAN, CEIT, CIDETEC, GAIKER, IDEKO, IKERLAN, LORTEK, TEKNIKER and VICOMTECH), which in practice means a corporation with over 1,400 professionals. IK4 achieves annual income to the tune of 108 million euros, which puts it among the top 10 private R&D corporations in Europe and makes it the first in terms of its proportion of funding from contracts with companies.