CNE Engineering relies on BigRep machines to 3D print moulds to produce lacquering equipment needed for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to safely store grounded planes during Covid. Aerospace Manufacturing reports.

BigRep, a global leader in large-format 3D printing solutions, is supporting its customers to bypass traditional supply chains and produce large-scale parts for aircraft maintenance.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic halted most travel, resulting in the immediate grounding of 62% of passenger planes. Aircraft engines need protection from the elements when parked for long periods, and standard procedures require covers to prevent damage from moisture and other objects. With the sudden grounding of many planes, SAS did not have the necessary inventory of off-the-shelf engine covers, exhaust plugs, etc. The domino effect of supply chain shortages worldwide meant that it was impossible for SAS to simply order more equipment to protect their fleet.

SAS determined that shortening the supply chain was the key – harnessing more locally available resources. They considered 3D printing solutions but needed technology large enough to produce engine exhaust covers. SAS turned to CNE Engineering, a local specialised supplier using BigRep 3D printers, to find a solution. The engine exhaust covers would need to withstand high temperatures, exhibit chemical and UV resistance, and be soft enough to not damage the engine upon removal and installation. Based on these requirements, castable urethane, a widely available and low-cost material, would be the best option.

“There was an opportunity to not only fill their need for this tool they couldn’t acquire through the normal supply chain, but we also saw the opportunity to make it better, explains CNE’s managing director, Nathan Brown.”

Faster timelines

CNE planned to use its two BigRep machines to 3D print moulds to produce several cast parts. The BigRep ONE’s cubic meter build volume could accommodate the primary, large-scale piece. BigRep’s STUDIO was a perfect choice to print the smaller features, like removable mould inserts. CNE used various BigRep materials for different parts: bio-based PLX for the outer shells, HI-TEMP CF for the centre core, and TPU for the insert moulds. Thanks to large-format 3D printing, CNE was able to meet SAS’s timing requirements as tooling was printed in a few days, and castings required only hours.

CNE’s Nathan Brown working on BigRep BLADE Slicer

“There is so much that goes into aircraft maintenance that you don’t see. Technology is something SAS is embracing,” says SAS’ production engineer, Jason Deadman.

Within two months of the kick-off meeting, SAS received its initial order. CNE’s success with its BigRep machines shows the full range of what 3D printing offers: fast production, design flexibility, low volume, low cost, and minimal waste.

BigRep’s chairman of the board and managing director of 360 Aircraft Finance, Peter Smeets concludes: “This case study is a shining example of how BigRep’s large-format 3D printers are already changing the game in aerospace MRO. We believe this is only the beginning and that 3D printed solutions will become the gold standard for custom, cost-effective manufacturing free from traditional supply chain issues.”

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