Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), an aerospace production technology, has the potential to build light, sustainable parts and reduce a company’s carbon footprint, according to a study by EOS and Airbus Group Innovations, previously EADS Innovation Works.
The environmental lifecycle assessment compared rapid investment casting with metal laser sintering to measure the two production technologies’ Cradle-to-Cradle impacts.
The study, applied to an Airbus A320 nacelle hinge bracket (a highly standardized part), strove to include detailed aspects of the overall lifecycle: from the supplier of the raw powder metal, to the equipment manufacturer (EOS), and to the end-user (Airbus Group Innovations), the companies say. Adapted from Airbus’ streamlined lifecycle assessment (SLCA) and ISO 14040 series requirements data, the testing will serve as the basis for continued Cradle-to-Cradle study into other aerospace parts, processes and end-of-life strategies.
As a first step, the SLCA was conducted on a generic bracket benchmarking the DMLS process with a conventional casting process used as the baseline. Comparing the lifecycle of a steel bracket (casting process) with the lifecycle of a design-optimized titanium bracket (DMLS):
- The use phase has by far the biggest impact in terms of energy consumption and CO2 emissions over the whole lifecycle of the bracket.
- CO2 emissions over the whole lifecycle of the nacelle hinges were reduced by nearly 40 percent via weight saving that resulted from an optimized geometry, which is enabled by the design freedom offered by the DMLS process and the use of titanium.
- Using DMLS to build the hinge may reduce the weight per plane by 10 kilograms, a noteworthy saving when looking at industry “buy-to-fly” ratios.
The second phase of the analysis focused on the manufacturing process for the design-optimized bracket using titanium as an ideal, common material — and, this time, benchmarking the manufacturing process of investment casting against that of DMLS via the EOSINT M 280 system:
- The total energy consumption for creating the initial raw powder metal, then producing the bracket in DMLS, was slightly smaller than the equivalent cast process steps (with the higher energy use of DMLS limited to the melt and chill cycle of its manufacturing profile and offset at the same time by a significantly reduced build time). Casting in this comparison was burdened with the furnace operation of burning an SLA (stereolithography) epoxy model, which uses considerable energy and generates greenhouse gases.
- The DMLS process itself used only the material actually needed to make the part — thereby eliminating waste from secondary machining and reducing consumption of titanium by 25 percent over the cast application.