Can you 3D print an aircraft engine? Yes, yes you can… granted you have the inclination and enough thermoplastic to scare a small horse. Last year at Autodesk University 2009, Autodesk and Stratasys saddled up to reveal an aircraft engine created in Inventor and printed using the Fortus3D production system.
I maintain that it would have been a more dramatic presentation if the CEO of both Autodesk and Stratasys actually did ride out on the aircraft engine together… with Bette Midler singing The Wind Beneath My Wings…
However, in lieu of that, we did talk recently with Joe Hiemenz, Technical Communications and PR Guy for that Stratasys outfit about the print and how it was developed.
To give you an idea on the size…
The engines gear box includes two sets of gears, which operate two sets of propellers that move in counter rotation to each other. With an engine length of over 10 feet, a blade-span of 10.5 feet, and 188 components, the engine model is massive in size. It includes several large parts, such as six propeller blades, each measuring 4.5 feet. – Stratasys
How was the model developed for the 3D Print?
Actually it was not designed to be printed. It was a concept model by Nino Caldarola, who built this engine for fun, out of a passion for aircraft and their engines. The original concept model has 4,500 components. The design had to be adapted for this printout, because this is not a product that has financial backing to be built. Building and assembling all 4,500 components would have been cost prohibitive just for this concept stage. If the engine was going to be produced, then it would have been more practical to build and assemble all components.
What challenges were faced with a model that large?
Many of the components were too large to fit in the build envelope of the FDM machines, the largest of which, have envelopes at 36 x 24 x 36. So many of the parts had to be constructed in multiple pieces and joined. Also, custom fixtures had to be fabricated just to assemble the model.
Is this the largest 3D print ever?
This is the largest known printout of a full-scale aircraft engine. Last year full-scale aircraft landing gear was assembled, which was even bigger.
What was the part count and price when this was all said and done?
The assembly consists of 188 components, not including fasteners. The cost for a manufacturer to build this in-house if it owned an FDM system is about $25,000.