Part Count Reduction to Reduce Weight

3D metal additive enables researchers and engineers to move away from the assumption that a metal part has to be solid by the strategic placement of external and internal voids filled with structural latticework that would be almost impossible to produce using traditional methods.

While part count reduction is a clear advantage for improved assembly and reduced part size for metal additive, if properly designed it can also reduce part weight. In 2017, Airbus Defence and Space, in partnership with 3D Systems, developed the first air-worthy metal printed Radio Frequency (RF) filter, tested and validated for use in commercial telecommunication satellites.

Moving away from the common assumption that metal parts have to be solid, as in the case of this internal combustion engine piston, allowed engineers to deliver 35% lighter-weight through internal latticework and partially sintered metal materials using 3D printing.

RF filters are traditionally designed using standard elements such as rectangular cavities and waveguide cross-sections with perpendicular bends, with shapes and connections dictated by standard processes such as milling and spark eroding. Typically, cavities for RF filters are produced by machining two halves that are bolted together, increasing weight, adding assembly steps and extra quality checks.

Using CST MWS software, a 3D electromagnetic simulation tool, the 3D Systems team developed a depressed super-ellipsoidal cavity to channel RF currents and reject out-of-band signals. The design was driven by pure functionality, and not dictated by manufacturability and resulted in a single-build part that was faster to produce, reduced production costs and reduced weight by 50%.

The Future of Metal Part Lightweighting

Metal 3D printing enabled Airbus Defense and Space to design and build a consolidated RF filter assembly based on a super-ellipsoidal cavity that efficiently channels RF currents.

These are just some examples of new methodologies to lightweight metal parts, but we believe that current research, design and engineering in Direct Metal Printing has barely scratched the surface of what is possible. What more can be done to lighten parts with hollows and voids? How can materials evolve to meet even more demanding requirements? How can the software evolve to match the innovation required? Although we have seen hints of what's to come, we are about to witness a dramatic rewriting of possibilities as design and manufacturing innovation become the new norm.

This article was written by Bryan Newbrite, Aerospace Applications Leader, 3D Systems (Rock Hill, SC). For more information, visit here.

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