AM for Defense Industry

US Air Force starts refurbishing Titanium turbine parts with AM

Next generation automated machine from Optomec for high volume production

Optomec has received an order from the US Airforce for an high volume AM-machine for refurbishing turbine engine components, including titanium parts. It is the first time Optomec is going to build an high volume adaptive AM-production cell, for repairing tens of thousands of components each year in a fully automated way.

Recently Optomec has announced that customers worldwide have already refurbished more than 10 million turbine blades with the proprietary additive manufacturing technology of the company. Now the US Air Force is joining the customer base. It has awarded Optomec a $1 million contract to deliver a high volume production machine. The equipment will include a range of state-of-the-art capabilities, including an automation system for batch processing, an oxygen-free controlled atmosphere, and an adaptive vision system. This automated additive repair system will be capable of processing tens of thousands of repairs per year, with an initial focus on tip refurbishment for turbine blades. Optomec will also assist the US Air Force in developing optimal process parameters for a range of target repairs. The solution will be installed at Tinker Air Force Base, in Oklahoma City, which already hosts a world class comprehensive aircraft engine overhaul capability.

$50 Billion market

Globally Aircraft Engine MRO is a $50 billion market, including commercial and military aviation combined. A large parts of this money is spend on the replacement of worn or damaged turbine engine parts by newly made parts. With the technology developed by Optomec, MRO companies can repair the turbine blade by additive manufacturing. This can save costs up to 70%. Besides, air forces and airlines can save money by shortening the lead time of the overhaul of an engine and reduce the dependencies of sometimes long supply chains.

Fully automated process for high through put

Vision and robotics

Optomec has industrialized the process, by integrating vision and robot technology in the additive manufacturing cel, which uses the proprietary LENS technology. The first step is detecting the damage with the vision system. Optomec then uses the DED technology to additively build up new material at the tip of the turbine blade. By precisely controlling the melt pool and the powder flow, a high performance metal structure is built up, either in the form of a fully printed part or as a local deposit onto an existing component to repair it. The integration of a 6-axis industrial robots means that the Optomec systems delivers a high through put.

First time high volume production system for Titanium parts

“Optomec is proud to be serving our military.  We have been processing titanium for years, but not in high-volume, oxygen-free production cells, although Optomec has developed automated, high-volume production cells for other alloys.” said Jamie Hanson, VP Business Development at Optomec.  “The challenge given to us by the Air Force was to provide a system based on commercially proven capabilities that meet their production and technical requirements. We will be providing a first of a kind machine with automation that enables virtually uninterrupted production in an oxygen-free environment.  This capability will help enable the broader aerospace industry by meeting its cost-reduction goals going forward.”

Photo: visual inspection of the turbine blades at a regular check (credits US Air Force)

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