The Compelling Value Proposition Of Additive Manufacturing For Aerospace

Mike York

Director, Additive Manufacturing at Eaton

Learning Objectives

The presentation will layout the compelling value proposition Additive Manufacturing provides for the aerospace industry. In it, I will cover the speed, cost, performance and sustainability advantages the technology provides and review real case studies Eaton Aerospace has identified. I will also give the audience a sense of how these opportunities are identified within their organizations. Finally I'll touch on the process required to build the internal capability and market credibility required to be successful.

Key Takeaways:

  • How Additive Manufacturing is ready now for aerospace deployment

  • Additive Manufacturing is both an opportunity and threat, depending on the speed of deployment

  • An understanding of what exactly the value proposition is for Additive Manufacturing within aerospace

"The beauty about additive is it gives you that flexibility to have unconstrained thinking, not only in your design phase but also in how you think about a solution."

Mike York

Director, Additive Manufacturing at Eaton


Hello, my name is Mike York. I’m the Director of Automated Manufacturing for Eaton’s Aerospace business. I’m here to talk to you about the value proposition of additive manufacturing.

A little bit about Eaton first, if you don’t know about Eaton as a business, basically, it’s split between two sectors: we have an electrical sector and an industrial sector, combined total sales is just over $21 billion. You can see on the electrical side, it’s focused on products and systems and services. On the industrial sector, we have aerospace hydraulics, our vehicle business, and our e-mobility business as well. We’re headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, and we have approximately 100,000 employees. Talking a little bit more specifically about the aerospace business, we’re about a $2.1 billion business that’s actually growing. Now, we have some acquisitions that are closing about 10,000 employees, 35 facilities globally. I’ll give you a sense of our product line in a minute, but we’re essentially split between fluid and electrical distribution, and our fuel and motion control divisions within the aerospace group.

I’m going to jump in and talk more about the value prop for AM. I’ll be specific about it for aerospace, but it really applies for other businesses as well. I’ll start with a quick history of our journey within the aerospace business. We started our additive journey in mid 2016. Now, of course, there was additive work going on within Eaton before that, but this is where we really got serious about deployment of additive in aerospace on end product use. We focused our efforts, at that time, identifying the material and process combinations that were the most important for our business. In doing so, kicked off a pretty significant material characterization project where we could establish design allowables for a given material and process, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute.

In 2017, we accelerated our pilot projects. Part of our strategy is to have pilot projects that develop core market credibility, and also, within Eaton, our core competence strengthen our core competence in specific AM processes and materials. Within that, we kicked off an effort for cold spray repair of aluminum housings, which we now have Air Force approval for. That led us into 2018, which was exciting year for us. It was our first flight test and commercial awards in both military and commercial space. You can see a couple pictures there of this aluminum parts that were part of that. We brought in some additional high productivity equipment within our center of excellence in Southfield 2019. Second commercial award, this was a pretty significant commercial award with Airbus. We also installed some hardware on a jet fighter to complete a second flight test that actually happened in 2020. We completed that year with having about 225 team members across aerospace working on additive projects. Where we’re at today, just kind of summarizing 2020, 2021, year to date. We have six metal components awarded for flight hardware. We’ve launched our third Center of Excellence, which I’m sitting in now in Charleston, South Carolina, AM facility. As I mentioned earlier, we have approval for cold spray repair on military applications for the US Air Force.

Let me dive into the value prop for additive, and get a little bit more specific about what we see is game changing in our business, and I think what’s definitely applicable for other businesses as well.

I’ll start in the upper left hand portion of this slide. Additive will truly change how we conceptualize in manufacturer solutions. The beauty about additive is it gives you that flexibility to have unconstrained thinking, not only in your design phase, but also in how you think about a solution. Certainly shapes packages, the ability to consolidate a lot of parts into one, and I’ll give you some examples of that here in a few in a minute. But also, the footprint of how you deploy a solution within a system, and what you combine into that system together. All those things change with additive, and the ability for additive to make a difference in your concept phase of your solution. Then, of course, how you manufacture that and where you manufacture it. Moving to improve products in systems, this all leads to a superior product, for sure. It gives you that opportunity to offer a lighter, smaller, lower cost, higher efficiency, and more reliable solution that, on top of all of that, is sustainable, is a much more sustainable, green, friendly solution. I’ll talk about that at the end of this. Ultimately, that concludes into a superior design solution that you can offer your customers.

The other thing that we’re seeing more and more applicable now, and in the upper right, is the ability of additive to enable cost out opportunities. Traditionally, additive hasn’t really been thought of as a cost out technology, it can be relatively expensive to conventional technologies for some cases, especially in industries outside of aerospace. The chart there, too small to read probably, but the chart there just shows, for a given type of product, this happens to be an aluminum casting, we see a dramatic decrease in the cost of additive in the past four or five years, compared to what it was. The caution here is that if you’ve looked at additive in the past, and you’ve decided that it doesn’t solve from a cost perspective, look again, because that’s quickly coming down with the advent of faster machines, capital costs are coming down, there’s more competition coming in, feedstock material prices are going going down, all of that working in favor of the additive costs.

Bottom left, protecting your current business additive. You got to look at it as an opportunity and a threat. The good thing about additive, you can have those superior solutions, but the bad thing about additive is so can your competitors. There’s this window of opportunity in which you can produce competitive solutions that are more competitive in both your NPD products. Your repairs, in the case of aerospace, we have retrofits, mods and upgrades, all of those have opportunities within AM. Again, it’s an opportunity and it’s a threat from a competitive standpoint.

Moving to the bottom center panel, certainly, additive reduces your expense in time for new product development, so we have lower energy costs, they have no tooling associated with it, much faster iteration. As quickly as you can design, you can build and part of that is allowing you to validate your assumptions much faster than what you have been able to do in the past. That ability to get to rapid test and validate where you are really does have an impact on your overall and our re-costs for development and time.

The bottom right is talking about this ability of additive to create a true digital thread in digital twin of what you’re manufacturing. With AM, we talked about the conceptual phase, of course, you do your design and modeling like like you always would, but you get an additional opportunity in the modeling step of being able to model not only your part through FTA and CFD in other models, but you can model your manufacturing process as well to get an idea of what you’re going to make in the material that you’re going to produce in the manufacturing process.

Then, we move over to manufacturing itself. Here, you get this very unique opportunity with additive that you don’t have with anything else. Conventional manufacturing wise, where you can inspect the part layer by layer for literally hundreds and thousands of layers. In some cases, for the entire build of the part, so every 30, 40, 80 microns depending upon what you’re using, you get this look at what layer you produce. You can look at that optically, you can look at that thermally, and build a true digital twin of what you’ve manufactured, not just rely on the CAD model and what you assumed you manufactured. That feeds into your inspection technique where you can flag areas where you’re concerned about potential flaws in your product, where you had some anomalies you picked up during your in-situ monitoring process. It really serves, as you begin to mature, that you can serve to reduce your overall costs of inspection for your part in your confidence of what you’re making.

When you’re delivering the parts of the customer, you’re delivering not only the part itself, but now you’re delivering this pedigree of the digital twin, which you may or may not share with your customer, but you have on hand and on file. As that part goes through its complete lifecycle, it’ll come back either in a maintenance loop are an end of life loop. You get this unique opportunity to go back to the digital thread and look to see what you made, how did it perform, what can you learn from that, and then feed that back into your concept and design cycle. Really offers a true digital twin experience, where you can then capture those learnings and feed them into your development process.

Kind of summarizing this at a higher level. The strategic advantages of additive really fall into three big buckets, its speed, its cost, and its improved performance, and with that, is sustainability. You could call it a fourth bucket or you can include in your improved performance. On the speed side, you know, we talked about rapid product development, eliminating the tooling, fast validation of concepts. Cost, there’s the material efficiency, I’ll talk more about that I’ll show you some examples in a minute. There’s enabling this repair versus replace mentality with some additive, like the cold spray repair of housings. There’s inventory reduction, which is significant. I’ll show you how we can combine a lot of parts, which takes out some inventory, but also there’s the ability to produce where you want the product and produce just in time type manufacturing that additive certainly plays into.

Then, an improved performance that can take a lot of different dimensions, almost always there’s a weight savings associated with part. In the case of like manifolds or pressure drops, the elimination of parts, elimination of elite pass, allow you to increase your meantime between maintenance or failures. Then, the sustainability aspect, again, I’ll talk about more. In aerospace, we would call one of the aspects a [unintelligible]. The fact that it’s less weight in nearly any of the transportation markets, means it’s less fuel use over the life of the product. At Eaton, we take advantage of all these because we design and manufacture our parts, so we’re able to really leverage the power of additive in all these spaces to produce a superior result.

Let me go through a couple or a few examples here within the aerospace business within Eaton. Upper left, I’ll start, this is a ram air valve, it’s an aluminum component. We made this traditionally being aluminum investment cast component. We converted this to a laser powder bed fusion part. In doing so, we were able to combine 22 parts that traditionally make up this assembly into 2, so pretty massive part count reduction. Now, some of those parts are screws and washers, they’re not all big parts. Still, you think about the assembly process, you think about handling all that inventory, going from 22 to 2 is a pretty significant savings. Then, there is a cost reduction associated with this. We eliminated all of the tooling, so if you’re familiar with investment casting, there’s fair amount of tooling that goes into that—all of that was eliminated. We’re able to do it much faster and less expensive from a NRE perspective.

Moving to the upper right, this is a 330 jet pump. It’s a fuel jet pump for that aircraft. It is also aluminum laser powder bed fusion. Here, we’re able to combine 11 parts into 1. Took out 30% of the weight, and really provided a nice path for certification in collaboration with Airbus on an exciting project that within their fuels system. Nice project. Those are two aluminum examples.

Now, move to the bottom left. Here’s a hydraulic manifold. This is Ti64. Different additive processes electron beam. Here, we’re making two different manifolds for a space customer of ours for a launch vehicle. We were able to, using additive in optimizing the design, we took 127 pounds of the weight per ship set result in a much smaller package size, we took out over 900 lead plugs. If you’re not familiar with lead plugs, that’s a, when you have to cross drill a manifold to clear the passages, you typically plug those with what we call a lead plug in the industry. It’s a titanium plug, and there’s 900 of them eliminated. Just a massive amount of not only plugs, but leak pass, assembly time to do all. From a sustainability perspective, we’re able to eliminate 360 pounds of chips per ship set. That’s about a 75% reduction versus the conventional process. Pretty significant example there.

Then, finally, cold spray. Here, we take housing. For us, it’s typically an aluminum housing that’s wore in service. Traditionally, what you would have to do is those housings would come in, particularly from long term applications in the field. Oftentimes, the supply base for that particular housing, maybe it’s been out of service for 10, 15, 20 years, isn’t even available. What we can do is quickly repair the housing, get it back into service, much faster turnaround times its cost savings as well, and a sustainability benefit with not scrapping and having to reproduce a brand new house. All the way around kind of a win-win. Some good examples. Not all that we’re working on, but some that I thought stood out.

Here’s another case study from the Eaton aerospace business. Here, this is a flexible joint, traditionally made of 13 components. They’re rot components that are welded together, forming an assembly, We were able to take those 13 components that required 32 welds, and get it down to 4 components with 2 welds. You can see the exploded view of the conventional design versus the additive design there on the bottom. Again, substantial part count reduction. Taken out 30 welds total, significant footprint of weld boosts removed on our shop floor. If you look at, some of the benefits all the way around, reducing the quality checks associated with those welds. Our supply base with buying all the components, much shorter lead times, because the assembly is much simpler. You create this digital clone, digital thread, or twin, whichever term you want to use, that I mentioned in the last slide. Here, taken out those well boose was about 6000 square feet of manufacturing floor space. You don’t have the labor to assemble it, eliminating a number of hard tools as well. It’s a safety improvement, you’re not doing all that welding in house. The reliability associated with eliminating welds is always a good thing. The total value here is pretty significant. Another interesting case study.

I mentioned earlier pilot projects. What we do within the aerospace business is we look at particular AM processes shown at the top of this chart, and combine them with the materials that we’re most focused on. I just wanted to put an example in each box. We’re actually doing a number of projects in each of the boxes shown here but essentially, what we do is we select the areas that are of the highest value to our organization, fully characterize it material and process combination. Then, we seek to find pilot project projects to really deliver that home to build that core competence at market credibility. You can see where we have awarded programs shown by the little ribbon symbol there in the different material and process combinations.

Another example. We’re digging into the jet pump a little bit, we talked about that. Here’s an exploded view that shows the jet pump. On the upper picture is the conventional jet pump. You can see, fair amount of assembly required, there’s a number of seals, and other components that go into to make sure you don’t have leak pass. Here, we took all of those components, combined them into one for a much more reliable product in gaining the other benefits. What we do is we find these pilot projects that are relatively straightforward, low risk. That material and process combination that builds the capability to answer the questions, de-risk, really that technology, which leads to a much broader opportunity in that particular space. Here, again, you can see the benefits of what we’re able to accomplish, but the real benefit is now we can apply additive in that material and process combination much more freely. We have the precedent set by the pilot projects that allow us to move much faster.

This is a little more detailed view of the cost coming down over time. So again, looking at housings here, and the dollar per pound cost for an additive housing versus conventional arrow housings on average. What you can see is, when we look at single or dual laser solutions, they’re not always competitive with what you can just do conventionally. Now that we’re moving into quad laser solutions, which we have here in our Charleston facility, we see that there is a pretty significant cost advantage, at least in some cases. As that moves out further in time, with some of the other technologies being introduced out there, we’ve seen 12 lasers starting and being introduced, look at the binder jet technologies. The cost equation is definitely improving for additive, and will definitely allow additive to be applied in much broader way for even just cost out initiatives.

Talk a little bit about sustainability, When we look at AM in general, how does it shake out compared to conventional solutions? Now, that’s a much deeper topic, but at least want to introduce it from a value prop perspective. This is a rotorcraft example, where we took a manifold that could be done conventionally, could be done with AM. Actually designed it both ways, produced it with AM, and you can see that we took out almost 50% of the weight, and took 9 parts down to 1. When the combine the weight solution, and also because we’re able to smooth the passages, we had a pressure drop reduction. We start to calculate all that in and factor in the carbon footprint for manufacturing, the conventional solution, the additive solution, and then factor in the benefit of the savings over the life of the product.

Without getting into a ton of detail here, we’re able to calculate the carbon footprint of both. What you can see in the middle pane here in the bottom, is that we could reduce the carbon footprint of the additive solution pretty significantly compared to the conventional solution. That makes a real difference. From a sustainability cradle to grave aspect of the part, you can see a pretty significant benefit in the additive solution, at least in some cases, particularly where you can take out a significant amount of weight, and you can improve the parts of performance to some degree as well. Another benefit that’s not always thought about with AM, but it’s certainly applicable in the additive space.

Hopefully, that was enough to give you some window into the benefits of AM, whether you’re in aerospace or automotive or any other industrial application. I think that, even though the examples I gave are aerospace related, very applicable to other businesses and other industries and types of products. I think, as technical leaders, we Need to really think through what are the opportunities within our business, and what can we do, and what’s the total value of additive beyond just a cost comparison. Hopefully, you found that interesting. I appreciate you taking the time and good luck on your additive journey.

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