How Velo3D is Redefining the Jet Engine

by | May 27, 2021 | Technology

The ability to build mission-critical parts at equal or higher quality than traditional manufacturing methods, in a fraction of the time, is a game-changer for the entire aerospace and aviation industries. In this article, we are going to discuss what makes Velo3D so unique, and then highlight one of our aviation success stories as a practical application of our transformational technology.

The field of metal additive manufacturing is in a constant state of evolution as disparate industries discover the capabilities of the technology and begin applying it to their unique use cases. While forward-thinking industries that deploy metal AM like space tend to dominate headlines because of their highly publicized launches and ability to capture public imagination, the inroads metal AM is making in other fields like energy and aviation are particularly transformational.

For aerospace and aviation, Velo3D and our revolutionary application of metal AM will be essential moving forward. Let’s take a look at how our technology can transform these industries.

Better Parts in a Fraction of the Time

The difference Velo3D brings to aerospace and aviation is threefold: advanced parts design, faster manufacturing, and quality assurance that helps ensure all parts are ready for large-scale production.

On the design front, Velo3D offers a level of freedom and simplicity previously unavailable in other forms of metal AM. Our Flow™ software allows engineers to build parts from the ground up, retaining the original CAD design while offering automated, intelligent print preparation that dictates the right processes for the part. Because Velo3D uses an integrated system that offers greater flexibility in designing the part, it means that the imagination and innovation displayed in the design phase can be achieved in printing, without complex designs being lost in translation. Flow™ software fully integrates with all Sapphire® printers, which ensures a uniformity of design and execution that was previously unattainable.

This integration also means shorter lead times and higher throughput when it comes to production. Instead of designing a part, sending it off to manufacturing, and dealing with a lengthy print preparation time before you can have the part in-hand, Sapphire® printers can print from a digital CAD file supported by Flow™ for any of your parts. When they need to be printed, any Sapphire® printer, anywhere in the world, is capable of handling your part. This distributed supply chain allows for local printing, even if the print file was prepared by another team halfway around the globe. By taking an on-demand approach to parts manufacturing, Velo3D enables rapid expansion of the supply chain – not only within the same facility, but at contract manufacturers worldwide.   

The third component to our revolutionary process is quality assurance. In addition to design and printing, Velo3D integrates our Assure™ system, which provides part validation at every stage of the process. In the past, metal AM may have been merely relegated to research and development, particularly in fields like aerospace and aviation where regulation and oversight are dominant. With Velo3D, however, part and printer integrity are constantly monitored to ensure quality.

This level of oversight also ensures a repeatable process. If mistakes are discovered in the build, whether it’s a design, part, or printer issue, they can be identified and corrected. While other metal AM systems may offer a degree of quality assurance, the fact that it runs throughout the entire Velo3D process provides a level of oversight that meets the unique challenges of aerospace and aviation.

Velo3D and Aviation: The Sierra Turbines Success Story

Sierra Turbines Inc., a California-based turbine design and engineering company, was looking to leverage metal AM into the production process of their Aurelius Mk1 microturbine. Unlike large-scale turbines more commonly found in commercial aircraft, the Aurelius Mk1 would be used in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Yet what made the project such a unique challenge, and a challenge that other AM processes couldn’t handle, was the proposed use of Hastelloy® X, a high-strength, low-creep metal common to commercial-aircraft manufacturers.

The goal of the Mk1 project was to reduce time between overhauls (TBO) which, with market incumbent microturbines, would traditionally run between 40 and 50 hours. The hope was that, by utilizing a higher-strength material, TBO could be drastically increased. It was the challenge of Velo3D to create a microturbine that could meet these criteria without a monthslong production cycle, and without creating a prohibitively heavy part.

A microturbine at the level of the Mk1 presents a unique design challenge for metal AM. The part contains hundreds of small holes, delicate lattice structures, dozens of internal cooling channels, and a series of thin, exceedingly tall walls. In our approach to the Mk1—in close collaboration with Sierra Turbines’ team—we consolidated 61 discrete parts into a single “unicore” engine. Through our revolutionary AM process, the deployment of a noncontact recoater blade made printing prohibitively thin sections of the engine. And our manufacturing process allowed the printing of shallow overhangs that didn’t require tedious post-processing.

The end result was a microturbine that checked all the boxes. Velo3D was able to produce the Aurelius Mk1 with a TBO near 1,000 hours, consolidate dozens of discrete parts into a “unicore” design, which in turn reduced the weight by about half, and produced an engine with a power density of 2,000-watt hrs. per kg, ten times that of incumbent parts. And, because of the integration of Flow™ software, Sapphire® printers, and Assure™ quality assurance, these microturbines are now repeatable, tested, and reliable.

“My design team is freed from the constraints of traditional manufacturing and even existing metal AM technologies such that they can focus purely on defining the geometry needed to maximize performance and differentiation,” said Roger Smith, Founder and CEO of Sierra Turbines.

With projects like the Aurelius Mk1, Velo3D is working to redefine the jet engine. As we look to the future, and we explore the capacity of larger builds using the forthcoming Sapphire® XC printer, the applications for aerospace and aviation are truly game-changing.

We’ve recently published a whitepaper which explores: 

  • What entails the full-stack solution that is driving advanced industrial metal AM
  • How real-time process and quality data can drive continuous improvement and avoid downstream problems
  • How these solutions serve the aerospace and defense industries with notable success stories from the likes of Sierra Turbines, Honeywell Aerospace and KW Micro Power

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Get in touch with a Velo3D expert today to see how our revolutionary approach to metal AM can transform your operation.

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About the Author

Amir Iliaifar

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

Amir Iliaifar is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Velo3D where he oversees the production and distribution of Velo3D’s global digital content marketing initiatives. Prior to joining the company, Amir worked for a leading professional drone manufacturer, several SaaS companies, and as an automotive tech journalist. He holds a Master of Arts in Digital Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.