ORNL’s Massive 3D-Printed Aircraft Tooling Wins Guinness Record
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on September 01, 2016 |

As the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) may not be all that interested in being recognized by the same group that awarded the “longest metal coil passed through the nose and out of the mouth” and “largest hairy family.” No, being listed in the Guinness World Records for producing the “largest solid 3D printed item” is just an added bonus. Really, it’s the functionality of the massive trim-and-drill tool, 3D-printed for the Boeing Company, that ORNL was after.

In the foreground, the 3D-printed tooling. In the background, the BAAM machine. (Image courtesy of ORNL.)
In the foreground, the 3D-printed tooling. In the background, the BAAM machine. (Image courtesy of ORNL.)
The massive tooling part was 3D printed over the course of 30 hours on ORNL’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, resulting in a part that measures 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall and weighs about 1,650 pounds. That’s roughly the length of a large SUV.

The BAAM system works by feeding material, often a combination of ABS plastic and carbon fiber pellets, from a hopper into a high-throughput extruder. While industrial pellets provide the BAAM with less expensive feedstock than typical 3D printing filament, the extruder enables the machine to print at an impressive rate of 40 pounds per hour. After printing, a built-in router shaves the layers more closely for a refined appearance. Currently, the BAAM system, manufactured by Cincinnati Inc with technology licensed from ORNL, is available in two sizes, one with a build envelope of 140 in x 65 in x 34 in and another measuring 240 in x 90 in x 72 in.

The record-setting tooling component will be used to secure the wing skin for Boeing 777X passenger jets as they are drilled and machined before assembly. During production, Boeing will supply feedback to ORNL about the performance and longevity of the component, with the goal of determining just how effective the use of 3D printing is for such large tooling compared with more traditional manufacturing methods.

Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials, described the advantages of 3D printing for manufacturing large components: “The existing, more expensive metallic tooling option we currently use comes from a supplier and typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques. Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labor and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.”

Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric measures the 3D-printed tool. (Image courtesy of ORNL.)
Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric measures the 3D-printed tool. (Image courtesy of ORNL.)
Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric dubbed the trim tool the “largest solid 3D printed item” after confirming that it was indeed larger than the required minimum of 10.6 cubic feet. Said Vlastimil Kunc, leader of ORNL’s polymer materials development team, “The recognition by Guinness World Records draws attention to the advances we’re making in large-scale additive manufacturing composites research. Using 3D printing, we could design the tool with less material and without compromising its function.”

Manufacturing of the 777X is slated for the beginning of 2017, but before the enormous 3D-printed part can be used for its intended purpose, ORNL must finish its verification testing on the tool.

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