Days after revealing that its customers have repaired and refurbished over 10 million turbine blades using its metal additive manufacturing technology, Optomec has been awarded a $1 million contract from the U.S. Air Force. Through the contract, Optomec will deliver a high-volume, highly automated production machine for refurbishing turbine engine components, including those made from titanium.
The LENS-based additive system will include several capabilities, such as an automation system for batch processing, an oxygen-free controlled atmosphere and an adaptive vision system. It will reportedly be able to process tens of thousands of repairs per year and will be used primarily by the Air Force for tip refurbishment for turbine blades. As part of the contract, Optomec will also work with the U.S. Air Force to develop optimized process parameters for a number of repair applications.
Optomec’s LENS technology, which uses Directed Energy Deposition (DED) to jet a stream of highly concentrated metal powder into a molten pool of metal, will be installed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. The site is already home to many aircraft engine overhaul systems.
“Optomec is proud to be serving our military. We have been processing titanium for years, but not in high-volume, oxygen-free production cells, although Optomec has developed automated, high-volume production cells for other alloys,” said Jamie Hanson, VP Business Development at Optomec. “The challenge given to us by the Air Force was to provide a system based on commercially proven capabilities that meet their production and technical requirements.
“We will be providing a first of a kind machine with automation that enables virtually uninterrupted production in an oxygen-free environment. This capability will help enable the broader aerospace industry by meeting its cost-reduction goals going forward. We would like to thank the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office and AFWERX for the opportunity and the streamlined process that enabled this contract.”
The global aircraft engine MRO market is highly valuable (worth $50 billion a year), and the U.S. Air Force itself spends billions on servicing its aircraft engine. A high portion of costs associated with MRO activities in the aircraft sector are related to the replacement of worn or damaged parts. By leveraging metal AM repairing technology, however, these costs can be mitigated by simply refurbishing the existing part. Optomec’s technology, for instance, has demonstrated cost savings of up to 70% in some cases. The technology also has the benefit of reducing lead times for parts, and thus shorter downtimes for aircraft.