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BAE Systems and Renishaw Use 3D Printing to Further Aircraft Design

February 25, 2020 by Mrinal Gokhale

Two major UK manufacturers, British Aerospace Systems and Renishaw, are advancing their partnership in a mutual effort to further aircraft design and manufacture through additive manufacturing.

BAE Systems and Renishaw recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that states they will work together to provide additive manufacturing services to the aerospace and defence sectors. Though not legally binding, the MoU details a framework of how the two tech giants will collaborate, while also opening opportunities for research and development.

Through this collaboration, Renishaw and BAE Systems aim to reduce costs, accelerate production time, and ultimately improve future aircraft quality.

In a press release on BAE Systems’ website, technology director Andy Schofield, Manufacturing & Materials Strategy, said that the Renishaw collaboration will help further BAE’s success in delivering quality aircraft parts and systems via 3D printing.

“This agreement allows us to create a more open and collaborative environment to share ideas and knowledge. In an environment of fast-developing technology and challenging budgets, collaboration and innovation are absolutely essential in order to retain cutting-edge capability,” he said.

Schofield signed the MoU, along with Will Lee, chief executive of Renishaw.


Renishaw employee working.

The collaboration between Renishaw and BAE Systems intended to reduce costs and to speed up manufacturing processes. Image Credit: Renishaw


3D Printing Advances Aerospace Industry

While it’s already taking off in many industries, the use of additive manufacturing in aerospace is projected to grow by 23.1% from 2017 to 2021.

Also called 3D printing, additive manufacturing is designed to add material to the product rather than having it wastefully stripped away. By using computer-aided software software to create part mockups and make design changes at any stage, the design accuracy improves and the turnaround time reduces. This eliminates the need to hire a third-party manufacturer, and for this reason, 3D printing is eliminating the use of traditional machining and moulding techniques.

The airline and space sectors were among the first to embrace 3D printing. Compared to parts, the aircraft systems require larger printers and the product must be (to achieve increased accuracy) divided into smaller pieces before the assembly stage.

Some of today’s common 3D printing aerospace applications include:

  • Fasteners

  • Fuel collectors

  • Injection nozzles 

  • Plane seats 

  • Safran helicopters

Plastic and other lightweight materials are used in 3D printing for fuel efficiency, which is a major concern in aircraft manufacturing. 

BAE Systems and Renishaw have been working together for years. Renishaw is a leader in additive manufacturing, which will ensure that BAE Systems remains a top aerospace manufacturer. Several Renishaw AM machines sit in BAE Systems’ Product Development and Process Development Center, where they’re tested for use in aircraft design. The manufacturers will use their combined expertise for both the rapid prototyping and testing of parts and for designing large aircraft systems.


A stock image of an aircraft.

The MAGMA is the first unmanned aerial vehicle designed with blown air technologies historically. Image Credit: BAE Systems.


A Longstanding History of Aircraft Advancement 

BAE Systems has used 3D printing for aircraft design and manufacturing validation for more than 20 years. 

The flap-free MAGMA unmanned aerial vehicle is one of BAE Systems’ most recent groundbreaking developments. Developed in partnership with the University of Manchester, MAGMA is the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in history that is designed with blown air technologies.

Traditional airplanes utilise flap wings, which increase lift during take-off and mid-flight. They rely on multiple airplane components to properly function. The University of Manchester and BAE Systems aimed to design a UAV that’s easier to operate at low speeds.

Starting with just glued-together plastic bits blown with a hairdryer 20 years ago, the two organisations ultimately used 3D printing to fully bring their vision to life. The intelligence gathered when developing MAGMA may even be used in the development of a future combat air system.

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