Metal 3D printed engine parts flown on Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Super Hornet

3D printed metal parts could soon power the Finnish Air Force.

Patria Plc, a chief provider of aerospace and defence solutions
for the Finnish government and Kongsberg Defense &
Aerospace, has added a 3D printed engine component
to an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter plane.

On 5th January 2018, the F/A-18 made its maiden flight
including the 3D printed part, and the test was a success.

Additive in the air

Metal additive manufacturing is experiencing one of the biggest
industrial booms in aerospace. In recent years, Boeing, GE and
Airbus have made headlines by eking ever-closer to
3D printed production of flight-integral parts

The high-grade applications, as a result, are encouraging the
technology’s maturation, now evident in a broader material
portfolio, and commitment to
faster print speeds

Plane wing inspection carried out by a Patria expert. Photo via PatriaPlane wing
inspection carried out by a Patria expert. Photo via Patria

The Inconel Hornet

Patria’s F/A-18 engine part is made of Inconel 625. Developed
in the 1960s, the nickel-based superalloy is renowned for its
performance at elevated temperatures. As such, the material has
invaluable to rocket makers,
 shipbuilders and chemical
processors alike.

Details of the exact metal 3D printing process used to make the
part has not so far been disclosed. But as a project now two
years in development it is likely that a well established
additive manufacturing method, such as selective laser melting
(SLM), was used in the process.

The size of the component would also glean some information of
the technology used. Techniques such as electron beam (EBAM)
and wire-arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) are typically used
large-scale applications, like spar parts
or propellers.

An F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet at base in Finland. Photo by Antti Karhunen / YleAn F/A-18 Super
Hornet fighter jet at base in Finland. Photo by Antti Karhunen /

Creating “newer, better structures”

Patria achieved Military Designs Organisation Approval (MDOA)
for design of the F/A-18 part in May 2017.

The aim of the project, according to Ville Ahonen, Vice
President of Patria’s Aviation business unit, was “exploring
the manufacturing process for 3D-printable parts, from drawing
board to practical application.”

The result is, “Using 3D printing to make parts enables a
faster process from customer need to finished product, as well
as the creation of newer, better structures.”

Due to the successful flight test, Ahonen confirms that Patria
will continue working on the efficiency of additive
manufacturing methods.

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Featured image shows an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter plane
in flight. Photo via the Finnish Air Force

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