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Bell and Ingersoll 3D printed a 22-foot long main rotor blade trim tool

The 7+ meters composite trim tool was produced using MasterPrint 3X, the largest 3D printer in the world

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Ingersoll Machine Tools and Bell Textron, a Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) company, have revealed the details of a collaborative effort utilizing the MasterPrint 3D large-format 3D printer to successfully manufacture a 22-foot-long vacuum trim tool for the production of main rotor blade components.

The impressive project was actually completed in 2019 but it had not been made public until now due to competitive advantage concerns and typical secrecy in advanced aerospace parts manufacturing.

The effort utilized Ingersoll’s hybrid large-format MasterPrint3X gantry type 3D printer and 5-axis milling machine housed at Ingersoll’s headquarters facility in Rockford, IL.

Bell and Ingersoll 3D print 22-foot long main rotor blade trim composite tool using MasterPrint 3X, the largest 3D printer in the world

“We are continuously testing and advancing MasterPrint in our Development Center,” said Chip Storie, CEO at Ingersoll “Among Ingersoll’s short-term objectives is for MasterPrint to 3D-print molds for aerospace that preserve the geometrical properties and tolerances, vacuum integrity and autoclave resilience normally obtained with traditional technology, but with the cost and time reduction only additive manufacturing can offer. The relentless progress our MasterPrint process has made in 2020 has finally made this target attainable”.

This production effort 3D printed the rotor blade trim tool using 1,150 pounds of ABS material with 20% chopped carbon fiberfill. The printing process was completed as a single part in a continuous 75-hour operation. After printing, the mold surfaces and tooling location features were machined to finished dimensions by exchanging the print module for the 5-Axis milling head which is changeable on the MasterPrint™ machine. The machining was completed in one week and the final part achieved full vacuum tightness. The Ingersoll machine utilizes the Siemens Sinmerik One CNC control system for controlling both the machining and the 3D printing.

Bell and Ingersoll 3D print 22-foot long main rotor blade trim composite tool using MasterPrint 3X, the largest 3D printer in the world

Bell and Ingersoll 3D print 22-foot long main rotor blade trim composite tool using MasterPrint 3X, the largest 3D printer in the world Critical time savings was achieved through the 3D print fabrication and efficient 5-axis machining operations. The additive and subtractive manufacturing processes were seamlessly co-engineered in the native CAD software format. The traditional build cycle for a typical mold in aluminum such as this using standard methods is typically 4 to 5 months.  This manufacturing process was completed in a matter of weeks.

“For many years Bell has utilized composite materials for manufacturing airframe components, including components produced on an Ingersoll Machine Tools Tape Layer machines. These similar materials are now being utilized for manufacturing the molds that form the airframe components. Utilizing this rapid manufacturing equipment will allow Bell to greatly accelerate our development of tooling for many applications within the Bell organization” said James Cordell, Sr. Manager, Process Stability, Bell.

Ingersoll Machine Tools, Inc. has played an important role in enabling breakthrough airframe production techniques for major aircraft designs around the world and we appreciate the opportunity to support Bell in building their future.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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