With the first assembly of the ‘Wing of Tomorrow’ prototype complete, Graphite Additive Manufacturing are thrilled to have worked with Latécoère to 3D print custom aircraft clips for the project.

A leader in the field of Aerostructures and Interconnection systems, Latécoère is a Tier 1 partner of the program led by Airbus to help develop next-generation wing technologies. Its aim is to test the latest materials and technologies that can improve aerodynamics and wing architecture.

As part of the project, Latécoère approached Graphite Additive Manufacturing to supply aircraft clips that would prove the capability of additive manufacturing technologies to radically reduce cost and improve the delivery time of aircraft components. The function of the 3D printed clip is to secure cables and harnesses in channels which protect cables from external mechanical damage.

Traditionally, the Latécoère design team would have machined the clips or used injection moulding to the specified geometry. However, some of the geometry would have been impossible to machine.

3D printing is ideal for clipping mechanisms and offers considerable benefits in terms of functionality, low-cost and very short lead times.

‘We choose to utilise the 3D printing process and materials because they’re cost-effective.’ explains Sam England, Designer for Latécoère. ‘Also, some of the more common materials used for these clips can be quite brittle, so often if you clip in once and pull it out again, it will never return back to its original state, or it will snap off. However, the material and 3D printing process we chose means the clip can be used multiple times without issue.’

Sam also recognized that 3D printing holds many other advantages that could simplify the aircraft retrofit and aftermarket service and improve supply chain efficiencies as it is easy to produce high-quality replacement parts in required quantities, with faster turnaround times than traditional manufacturing processes can allow. There is no need for high inventory levels when 3D printing spare parts for aircraft as its on-demand which eliminates the high costs of maintaining inventory especially for low-demand parts. Also, repair or replacing of aircraft components is always possible and removes the fear that a needed part is no longer in production or the associated tools no longer available.

The AM process used for the clips was Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) which is a fast, cost-effective powder-based AM technology engineered to produce final parts and functional prototypes that are strong, durability and resistance to temperature and chemicals, but will also retain fine detail and dimensional accuracy.

An eco-benefit of the process is that excess powder is reclaimed with MJF and can be used in subsequent builds, which results in very limited waste for each component which further reduces cost.

Graphite recommend PA12 nylon as a material for the MJF process because it is a robust thermoplastic that produces high-density parts with balanced property profiles and is cost-effective for low-volume batch production. Discover more about our materials here. You can also request free samples of any of our materials here.

Graphite’s experienced additive manufacturing team confidently assist designers and engineers to get the best results from their ideas and innovations.

The Latécoère design team were excellent designers, but had never designed for additive manufacturing.

Sam shares, ‘The main learning for us was how you design for 3D printing and how to design efficiently.

Designing to add material whereas traditionally, you designed to remove which is the opposite way from what a designer is used to. Graphite were great with their advice and feedback as to how to optimise our designs to improve the part.’

Graphite Applications Engineer, Greg Keech recounts the discovery of a small issue, ‘The prongs on the clips were too close together which led to powder sticking between the prongs of the part due to heat being created by the sidewalls. We relayed this to Latécoère’s designers who quickly modified the design of the clips to reduce the potential of powder ingress.’

Because the clips would be interfacing with metallic components, the Latécoère designers chose to print a few wall thicknesses so they could get a feel for the part and what would work best. This would be a very expensive thing to do with another method of manufacturing, but is standard with 3D printing.

Once manufactured, the MJF PA12 clips received Graphite’s popular cosmetic finishing option to give a glossier, smoother surface finish.

Sam comments, ‘We were very impressed with the quality of the parts. Airbus were also very impressed with the clips. The feedback has been the fit is good and they clip into place nicely. The parts will be vibration tested to ensure mechanical properties requirements were fully met, but the work so far has provided a strong foundation towards that final phase of testing.’

What Latécoère also found notable, was the speed of the entire process. ‘The reduction in time for manufacturing using the 3D printed process was huge’, notes Sam. ‘Injection moulding could have potentially taken 12 weeks to just receive the tooling, then once the tooling has been produced, anything between 2-8 weeks for manufacturing the part. To have the clip 3D printed was a two week turn around.’

Sam concludes, ‘I think the Latécoère experience of 3D printing the clips with Graphite is what the whole ‘Wing of Tomorrow’ project is about, trying to find new techniques to make performance and production quicker, easier, cheaper.’

Following the success of the clips Graphite have supplied for the project, Mike Horne, General Manager of Latécoère IS UK Ltd has this to say, ‘The whole experience of using Additive Manufacturing on the Wing of Tomorrow program has been very positive and has turned around my perception of how AM techniques could assist not only the design process, but prove to give a competitive advantage in full production.  I have been very impressed with the quality and professionalism shown by Graphite and have no hesitation in presenting them to the rest of the Latécoère Group. I look forward to doing further business with them [Graphite] in the future.’

Click here to find out more about our work for other clients in other industries.

We are renowned for our technical expertise in AM and our highly qualified team is here to help, so whether you need help to solve a specific design or production challenge, or just exploring the exciting possibilities Additive Manufacturing could have for your business, talk to us.


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