Velo3D, Lockheed Martin and Vibrant have announced they are working with the Department of Defense’s LIFT Institute on a data-driven approach to certifying materials and processes for additively manufactured aerospace systems.
One particular project under the LIFT umbrella is looking at 3D printing a Ramjet engine. The use of laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) technology in combination with Inconel 718 metal alloy has attracted particular attention. This 3D-printed Ramjet has its origins in a student project and was later further developed by Velo3D using advanced printing technology.
A key challenge in using 3D printing in this application is quality assurance. To ensure the quality and reliability of the printed part, the team relied on process-compensated resonance testing (PCRT), offered by a company called Vibrant. This technique uses ultrasonic frequencies to measure the resonant frequencies of the part and identify potential irregularities or defects.
“AM is a relatively new manufacturing process and there’s a need to validate and certify parts for service and mission-critical applications,” says Dr. John Keogh, LIFT’s Engineering Director. “We need a data-driven approach to test and certify components right out of a printer, as opposed to a statistically driven one where you have to build multiple parts first and only then gather statistical performance data (make-and-break). Our goal was to identify the signatures of physical quality found in process data and rapid post-process inspection for accurately certifying a component for the rigors of hypersonic flight.”
The preliminary results are promising and show that 3D printing could be a key technology for the future development of hypersonic propulsion systems. The involvement of organizations such as LIFT, in combination with private companies and academic institutions, shows the immense potential and importance of this technology in the aerospace sector.