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3D printing used to make aircraft engine parts


Client : Pratt & Whitney Canada

Additive manufacturing could bring about a digital-age revolution in manufacturing. There are major benefits to this technology, and that’s why aerospace leader Pratt & Whitney Canada turned to Investissement Québec - CRIQ to help produce an aircraft engine part.

The project was completed in March 2015 as part of the greener aircraft catalyst project (SA²GE for Smart Affordable Green Efficient). It evaluated if 3D printing could be used to produce the part in Inconel—a complex nickel alloy containing chromium and iron. The part is usually machined by traditional techniques. Grinding the part would present a challenge given the hardness of the material and cause a wasteful loss of raw material.

In all, three parts were manufactured, including a full replica of a part usually machined and another part made lighter by leaving the centre hollow. Traditional grinding or machining techniques cannot produce a hollow part, but it could be done with 3D printing. The weight saved could be used to fortify more critical components, thereby improving engine performance.

APN Inc., a Québec small business that currently provides Pratt & Whitney Canada with this test part, was involved in the project. If the results of this test and others prove successful, APN could acquire its own 3D printer at minimal risk and provide its client with parts optimized by additive manufacturing.

This project, made possible by SA²GE, is a first step in a grand exploratory trajectory that will lead to the deployment of additive manufacturing throughout the aerospace industry. Many tests must first be done to confirm the reliability and durability of the parts produced, but the progress is encouraging. Who knows, one day it may even be possible to print a whole airplane fuselage in 3D!