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Cobra Aero optimizes UAV engine cylinder with metal additive manufacturing

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After successfully optimizing its design processes for aircraft and motorcycle engines in collaboration with UK-based metal AM company Renishaw, engine manufacturer Cobra Aero has decided to invest in its own AM 400 3D printer. Prior to the investment, Cobra Aero worked in close collaboration with Renishaw to learn about the company’s metal AM process.

Based in Michigan, Cobra Aero designs and manufacturers about 2,000 engines a year for customers across various specialty markets, including the motorcycle, aerospace and UAV markets. Seeking to improve its in-house production capabilities, the company became interested in the potential of metal additive manufacturing. To further explore and learn about the technology, the company paid a visit to a Renishaw Additive Manufacturing Solutions Centre in the U.S.

There, Cobra’s team worked with Renishaw engineers to optimize the design of an engine cylinder for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The redesign process consisted of implementing a complex lattice structure for improved airflow and to consolidate various components into a single, lightweight part.

Cobra Aero Renishaw

The successful project at the Renishaw facility has now led Cobra to invest in its own AM 400 system. Having the technology in-house will enable the company to continue its tradition of manufacturing parts at its facility and maintaining close control over the whole process.

“Staying at the cutting edge of manufacturing is important to Cobra Aero,” said Sean Hilbert, President of Cobra Aero. “Investing in AM allows us to develop tools and new products for high value, small volume applications, speed up the manufacturing process and produce designs that would not be possible using conventional subtractive machining.”

“We decided to redesign the cylinder because of its importance in an engine,” he continued. “Design changes to this part of the engine must happen rapidly and it is also a high value part, which is why we have chosen to additively manufacture this component. Improving the performance of the cylinder will also improve the overall performance of the engine.”

Stephen Anderson, AM Business Development Manager at Renishaw Inc., added: “By using metal additive manufacturing, Cobra Aero was able to design a part that was unique to the application. By using our laser powder bed fusion technology, Cobra Aero was able to produce a single part with complex lattice structures that performs better than conventional component manufacturing techniques.”

Presently, Cobra Aero is using its metal AM system for high-value, small-volume applications as well as prototyping and tooling. Down the line, Hilbert adds that he can envision metal 3D printing becoming his company’s dominant manufacturing method. “Everything that’s now [made with] casting, I can easily see being printed within the next decade,” he concluded.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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