Technology & Digital Innovation

Brindisi goes 3D

Over the coming months, any visitors or employees passing between the Repair shop and the Marine & Industrial Service area at the Avio Aero Brindisi plant will be intrigued when they encounter a 1,000 square meter new construction site. Indeed, scheduled for completion for the end of 2018, work is already underway to build the second Italian additive manufacturing center for Avio Aero, this time in the south of the country.

The site in Apulia is about to host a second Cameri the  Avio Aero’s modern plant inaugurated in 2013 and dedicated to additive manufacturing. What can be seen today inside the former kitting warehouse will be completely demolished and a new two-story building will be built within its perimeter walls.  On the ground floor, a controlled environment white cleanroom will be able to host up to 20 machines for metal 3D printing, while the upper floor will be home to offices with workstations for designers, and storage space for equipment.

An extensive redevelopment that will affect a surface area of 1,000 square meters which until now has housed this automated warehouse next to the service area of the Salento facility. "This is where the new Brindisi additive manufacturing area will be," explains Davide Rausa, Facility & Maintenance Manager who has been following this transformation project from the very beginning.  "We are playing a sort of Tetris. The warehouse contains around 1,800 storage places which will be transferred to two other warehouses here in Brindisi. One of these equipped with an intelligent system with monitored access, but the work also involves other areas around the warehouse which are to be optimized."

An M2 cusing Mulitlaser machine by GE Additive-Concept Laser

"The significant difference here is that we will have Concept Laser machines with Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) technology, meaning the laser beam melts the powder to create an object, while the Arcam EBM machines at Cameri use an electron beam," says Dario Mantegazza, new Additive Manufacturing Leader in Brindisi, whose followers will almost certainly remember. In fact, Mantegazza has joined the team in Salento for this project of industrial evolution precisely because of the experience he gained at the Avio Aero facility at Cameri (Novara). The machines he mentioned are manufactured in Sweden and Germany, respectively by Arcam and Concept Laser. The latter Swedish and German makers are divisions of the GE Additive business, which also has a Customer Experience Centre in Munich, Germany.

During a recent visit to the Avio Aero’s Turin Additive Lab, located inside the campus of its partner, the Polytechnic of Torino, Jason Oliver, the new President and CEO of GE Additive, said he was stunned by the level of investment and advanced skills in additive manufacturing technology when meeting the researchers and engineers who develop processes and products with additive machines. He recognized Avio Aero not only as a pioneer, but also as a driving force for the industrial sector. "The collaboration between GE Additive and Avio Aero is an incredible opportunity for growth, not only in the design and production of parts for aircraft engines, but also in the materials used," said Oliver. "What is happening with the Advanced Turboprop program, whose project was conceived with additive manufacturing, and the machines that will arrive in Brindisi are more than confirming this growth. At the same time, we want our machines, whether laser or electron beam, to provide ever-increasing quality and capacity."

And it is exactly for this reason that,  as announced at the end of last year, the production mission of this new area at Brindisi will be dedicated to the additive manufacturing of parts for the GE Catalyst engine. That’s the brand-new name for the advanced turboprop – that was  tested for the first time last December -   announced just few days ago right from the GE Aviation’s Prague headquarters by Brad Mottier, Vice President of GE Aviation’s BGA and Integrated Systems.

The GE Catalyst engine inside the test cell at GE Aviation Czech

The GE Catalyst will power the new Cessna Denali aircraft and it’s the first engine to have over 30% of its components made using additive technology, providing benefits in terms of efficiency and weight. "Until now the parts assembled in the engine were produced at the GE Aviation Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is why we are cooperating more and more with the our team in the US," says Mantegazza, who has just returned from Cincinnati. "We are exchanging knowledge on the process and transferring know-how from the ATC team to produce 3D printed engine parts here in Apulia, using aluminum, nickel-based powders, with the same machines and several other latest generation machines expected in 2019."

The machines in question, all from GE Additive’s Concept Laser division, are the new M2 Cusing Multilaser machines, already being used in the most advanced production centers, which work with two lasers and resemble large printing booths. One would almost expect to find them in a typographical environment, were it not for the striking futuristic design of the exterior, the highly technological aspect of the interior of the machine, and the completely digital layout highlighted by the integrated display screens.

"These are machines that are born smart," explains Danila Marco, Digital Technologies Additive Manufacturing Focal Point for Avio Aero, who is coordinating the IT aspects of the new area at Brindisi. In fact, they are made to be interconnected, specifically with systems like Predix, and have an innate capacity to collect and send enormous amounts of data. "In these machines, unlike traditional systems, the software and hardware aspects are closely linked, and the IT aspects therefore become more binding for the systems themselves to function correctly." One of the principal objects of the team headed by Danila is, therefore, the maximum integration which can be achieved between the new additive process and the other tools and software used in the company. A pair of Concept Laser M2 Multilaser machines is due to arrive by the end of this year, as soon as the area is ready and are expected to provide high levels of performance.

A graphic vision of the shop floor of the future

The Italian government considers additive manufacturing to be one of the key enabling technologies to meet the challenges and achieve the objectives pursued within the framework of the National Industry 4.0 Plan, launched at the end of 2017.  And it is for this reason that the Ministry for Economic Development supported the wind of progress which is blowing across Salento.