NAWCAD Lakehurst improving readiness, sustainment through expanded additive manufacturing facility
Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst is aiming to improve naval aviation readiness and sustainment through the growth of its advanced manufacturing capabilities, with the recent expansion of its Additive Manufacturing (AM) facility.
The AM team at Lakehurst acquired three new machines for their facility in 2019 to increase production capacity and speed in support of NAWCAD’s headquarter command, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).
“This facility expansion strengthens NAWCAD Lakehurst as a powerhouse in metal-based additive manufacturing,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, NAWCAD Lakehurst executive director. “Our team is at the tip of the spear in using emerging technologies to increase readiness and sustainment for our Sailors and Marines, and it’s exciting to see how they continue to revolutionize Navy manufacturing.”
NAVAIR is exploring the use of AM to create aviation parts and tools that would not be possible through traditional manufacturing techniques, and to sustain parts that are no longer available in the supply system.
AM, commonly known as 3D printing, is the process of joining materials such as polymers and powdered metals, layer upon layer to make objects from 3D model data inside a machine using a laser or electron beam. It can decrease manufacturing time from weeks or days to hours and be used on complex geometries that cannot be built using traditional manufacturing methods, said NAWCAD Lakehurst Advanced Manufacturing Technology Lead Kyle Cobb.
NAWCAD Lakehurst opened its metal-based AM facility in 2015 with a metallic Laser Powder Bed Fusion system and a team of four people, to evaluate the use of metal-based AM in addressing warfighter needs. The team was a part of NAVAIR’s successful first flight of a safety-critical AM part in July 2016 on an MV-22B Osprey.
The Lakehurst team has now grown to more than 20 engineers and produced more than 75 AM builds totaling more than 250 parts.
“It’s a paradigm shift in how we do business, because it removes the traditional boundaries we have when we’re thinking about designs,” Cobb said. “Now you’re enabled to effectively generate your design based on the actual requirements versus your ability to make the item. AM opens up a whole new world of opportunity.”
The three new machines include an Optomec CS-800 Directed Energy Deposition (DED) AM System, Sciaky Electron Beam AM (EBAM) System and the NSI X5000 Computed Tomography (CT) NDI X-Ray System.
The DED AM system allows the team to repair larger items with complex geometries that previously would have been salvaged or scrapped, including critical engine components that are expensive to replace, Cobb said.
The Electron Beam system can repair large objects in a timely fashion with little waste. It has uses a wire-feed system with an electron beam to lay materials with a much higher rate of deposition, saving time and money.
The CT X-Ray system expands the AM facility’s reverse engineering capabilities, and enables engineering investigations and failure analysis without disassembling components and losing valuable information.
“Often times we don’t have the data rights to legacy components that were designed 30-40 years ago,” Cobb said. “As we continue to extend the life expectancy of each platform, we need to support more and more parts. This machine will allow us to capture the internal and external geometry so we can perform reverse engineering, which often feeds the additive process.”
The system also brings scanning services in-house, reducing contracting and shipping costs.
“These three systems will result in a tremendous increase in capability and will have an immediate impact to the warfighter,” he said. “We’re working so hard and so fast that you don’t really notice all the evolution and the progress we’ve made, but when you take a step back and realize we’ve just gained this amount of equipment in this amount of time and trained all these people, I think it’s really impressive.”