Sunday, April 16, 2017

'Printed' parts to lighten load for Boeing 787 Dreamliner

In the most literal sense, Boeing's carbon-fiber-covered Dreamliner is a lightweight as widebody commercial jets go.

But a deal with a Scandinavian company could help the planemaker trim a few more pounds from the fuel-efficient 787 airframe, while adding more than a few bucks to the bottom line.

The first-of-its-kind order will supply Boeing with structural titanium components created by sophisticated 3-D printing machines rather than casting them the old-fashioned way.

Those critical metal parts, in turn, will be incorporated into the 787s assembled in North Charleston and Everett, Wash., currently at a rate of 12 a month.

Announced Monday, the contract with Norsk Titanium is expected to help trim as much as $3 million off the cost of each plane and help chip away at the $27 billion in previously incurred Dreamliner production costs.

“From the outset, the 787 has been the hallmark of innovation and efficiency,” said John Byrne, Boeing’s vice president of airplane materials and structures. “We are always looking at the latest technologies to drive cost reduction, performance and value to our customers, and Norsk Titanium’s … capability fits the bill in a new and creative way.”

According to a report by Reuters, titanium makes up about 15 percent of every 787, costing Boeing an estimated $17 million for each jet that rolls off the assembly line.

The company has been eyeing ways to lower that expense for at least two years.

“Specific materials at times are cost drivers, so looking at alternative materials is part of what we do,” Boeing technology chief John Tracy told The Post and Courier during a visit to Columbia in 2015.

Aluminum has never been a suitable replacement for the pricier alloy, in part because of weight, strength and durability factors.

Also, aluminum corrodes when it comes into contact with carbon fiber, the lightweight manmade material that makes the 787 such a fuel miser.

Norsk announced a deal at last summer’s Farnsborough International Airshow to provide Boeing with engineering samples of its 3-D titanium.

The Oslo-based company has said its printing technique - the technical term is “rapid plasma deposition” - requires less energy and fewer raw materials than traditional forging and machining. 

“During our patented robotic layer-building process, titanium wire is precisely melted in an inert argon gas environment and monitored 2,000 times per second for quality assurance,” Norsk said on its website.

The Federal Aviation Administration has certified the company's first 3-D parts, clearing the way for the 787 deal announced Monday.

“We are proud to take this historical step with a great aerospace innovator like Boeing,” Norsk CEO Warren Boley Jr. said in a statement. “The Norsk Titanium team will continue to expand the portfolio of components supplied to Boeing meeting stringent certification requirements." 

Another company official was slightly more enthusiastic than the boss, predicting that ”the floodgates" are set to fly open for more work, to help Boeing lighten the 787 load even more.

"You're talking about tons, literally," Norsk marketing executive Chip Yates told Reuters.

Just like most other parts that go into making the largely outsourced 787, the new components will be manufactured overseas, in Norway. At least the early batches will be. Norsk said it intends to shift production to the United States, to Upstate New York, later this year.

Original article can be found here:

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