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Caracol 3D prints large scale composite aerospace tools

Proprietary system uses robotic arms to generate advantages in terms of costs, sustainability and lead time

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To streamline tool production within the aerospace supply chain, Caracol worked with large international groups, supporting them in substituting traditional processes with composites AM. In particular, the company has been producing large-scale aerospace tools for the positioning and vacuum gripped drilling of airplane fuselage panels for aerostructures, bringing to life the first large-scale aerospace tool additively manufactured with composite materials in Italy.

In traditional manufacturing supply chains for aerostructures, drones and space applications, the tooling and utensils used for part production involve milling from solid metal. Parts are then manually assembled to craft the final tool. This process entails lengthy production and assembly lead times (up to 2–4 months for a single tool) and, due to the significant quantity of material removed from solids and subsequent metal waste, there are high production costs and unsustainable manufacturing processes.

With a completely digitalized and integrated workflow, the parts are printed in a single piece and finished with CNC milling to achieve the applications’ required dimensional tolerances of 0.1mm and surface roughness of 1.6 μm.

Thanks to the creation of proprietary algorithms and the development of an innovative and patented extrusion system, Caracol has transformed robotic supports into an integrated additive manufacturing technology. The developed solution enables the production of monocoque components up to five meters, with very complex geometries, and direct printing of composite materials with high mechanical and thermal performances, like PP, PA12, and PPS reinforced with carbon or glass fibers up to 40%. Thanks to this technology, Caracol overcomes the dimensional limits of industrial 3D printers, with lower operating costs compared to traditional solutions and to other options on the market. Moreover, to achieve the ambitious sustainability results its clients have, the technology has been developed to ensure a process that, by printing directly from pellets, cuts waste and potentially reuses most of the production waste generated that is typical of subtractive processes.

Including this innovative solution within aerospace manufacturing supply chains leads to a number of benefits for clients: more than halving production times, eliminating the need for manual assembly by producing parts in one piece and drastically cutting material waste, all supplemented with a significant cost advantage of around 30–50% in acquiring the part.

The result was achieved by combining the unique expertise in the production of tooling and aerospace applications of the clients Caracol works with together with the deep know-how on additive manufacturing for advanced components that the company has developed, being one of the first companies in Europe to explore its advantages on large-scale formats.

Today, Caracol is verticalizing the use of its technology in high-performing industrial sectors, operating in compliance with the requirements of the AS9100 certification. Beyond tooling, Caracol has already been working on a number of projects in the aerospace sector, using its know-how and technologies on a variety of applications like satellite deployer parts, geometrically complex casing for avionic systems, as well as a number of research projects on parts produced with composite materials for autoclave use.

This is only the first step towards the development of a more digitalized, efficient and sustainable aerospace supply chain, which can truly take advantage of benefits like production flexibility, weight and cost reduction that are possible thanks to this technology.

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