Majenta Solutions have a long standing relationship with GKN and we are currently offering our services, training and software to the Aerospace team in Filton, Bristol. We work closely with Wilson Wong, Design & Analysis lead at GKN Aerospace. Wilson is an inspiring driving force behind Additive Manufacturing (AM) at GKN.
With many unsure about what AM actually is, how it can benefit their business and its place in the future of manufacturing, we interviewed Wilson to share his knowledge and advice with you.
How would you define Additive Manufacturing (AM)?
AM is a form or category of manufacturing methods that makes a component by adding material incrementally. We forget that humans have been doing this for centuries when making larger objects, for example building a house from brick, or even a pyramid.
Also it is worth noting that AM is not a single technology, but a term used to encompass technologies such as FDM, SLS, EBM, LPB, DED etc.
What are the benefits of AM in Manufacturing?
- One benefit known to many is complexity at no additional cost.
- Sustainability – AM consumes less waste and less energy overall.
- It produces a rapid turnaround, as there are no tooling requirements.
- An important benefit worth focusing on is the ability of AM to create both geometry and the material at the same time. AM enables us to design materials, in both a metallurgy and physical sense. In metallurgy, you can tailor the microstructure of your material using AM. Physically, you can tailor the micro-geometry of your component; an example would be the structure you see in human bones when magnified under a microscope.
How and by whom is AM being used to its full advantage?
AM can be used throughout the majority of stages in a product life cycle:
- Prototyping for design iteration/testing
- Tooling for manufacture
- Serial manufacture
- Novel application/design to improve functional performance
It seems to be a common belief that AM can only be achieved in factories, but it can be used by anyone; from a 3D pen used by kids, to engineering structural and functional components, to even building houses. AM, being used to its full capacity, is down to an individual’s creativity. There are no limitations on who can use it, but how, where and when it is used. For example, AM is being used in the medical field to cultivate organs and cells.
Many organisations have adopted AM in different forms or to benefit them at different stages of the product life cycle. We know that the Defence sector are using AM, but there are limited visuals of how and why, for obvious reasons.
Some examples in the commercial space are:
- Boeing is using composites tooling which are manufactured using AM.
- Jaguar Land Rover uses AM for design prototypes to enable them to check the fit, form and functions of each prototype.
- GE is in the process of using AM in serial production for certain engine components.
- BMW is using AM to print thumb protectors for their employees to reduce the risk of injuries while fitting plastic fasteners! A novel example where AM can be used to improve efficiency and reduce cost indirectly by less medical bills and stop to workflow!
How have GKN introduced and adopted AM? What has the impact been?
GKN has been investing in AM since 2012, applying it to their different divisions, namely Aerospace, Driveline and Powder Metallurgy. In my own opinion, GKN are strategically placed to provide an integrated solution spanning the whole supply chain of an AM product, from powder production through to engineering design, and to the delivery of a final product. Adopting and embracing AM has allowed GKN to improve efficiency in its manufacturing process, explore new areas of design with its competencies in AM, and help customers in the journey to AM adoption themselves.
How have GKN Driveline and Aerospace introduced AM?
The rate of production required in automotive is much higher than that of aerospace. Current AM technology struggles to satisfy the rate required by serial automotive production. Therefore, AM has been used mainly in prototyping and tooling. However, our team at GKN are continuing to explore the possibility of serial production using AM through innovative design solutions and are having early successes.
The main focus for Aerospace is to apply AM in serial production, yet still utilising it in the prototyping and tooling area. GKN is again exploring the design freedom provided by AM to improve performance of components, and helping customers on their journey through the full Aerospace component life cycle, including qualification.
What would your advice be for organisations considering adopting AM?
This is a great time to venture into AM, with many developments still ongoing and the technology is maturing from its ‘infancy’ status.
Where is AM best placed? How will it grow and develop?
AM is uniquely placed as it is applicable to both industrial and domestic scenes, even though the requirements are quite different. People have tried to compare AM with composites development, which has taken over 40 years to reach the mainstream. However, organisations need to remember that the cost of entry into composites is very high and it’s generally intended for high performance components only. AM on the other hand, spans the whole spectrum from the very low cost of polymer to the very high cost of metal. AM covers the majority of applications, the user’s imagination being the only limitation.
AM will continue to grow and develop at an exponential rate as it has been for the last few years. The different technologies in AM will mature at different rates to provide a robust manufacturing method in the future. This is further enhanced by the backing of not just big Aerospace or Automotive companies, but companies of all sizes.
What new technologies used for aerospace design will we see in the next 5 years?
There will be more focus on topology optimised design, this will lead to more emphasis on simulation based design due to the ability of AM to produce the complex designs. At the same time there will also be more design, both functional and structural, that takes into account AM capabilities and limitations that do not necessarily have to go through topology optimisation.
What is the next generation engine technology for Defence and commercial platforms? What will the focus be and what can we expect from GKN Aerospace?
Literature suggests that the next generation engine technology will be running hotter, lighter and therefore have higher performance and higher efficiency. Noise will also be a focus due to the regulation coming into place very soon for lower noise emissions.
GE have announced that they will be manufacturing more parts using AM in their engine and you will see a lot more redesign of engine components. In my opinion, this will inevitably consolidate the number of components, making the engine simpler in design.
GKN Aerospace will be exploring and inserting various advanced technologies into the next generation engine, including AM in the mix.