Thermwood Partners on Low-Cost Responsive Tooling Program
The United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)
Manufacturing and Industrial Technology Division
(ManTech) is interested in large scale polymer-based additively
manufactured (AM) composite
cure tooling. Boeing submitted an
idea to ManTech’s Open BAA to evaluate
the current state of additive
manufacturing technology with
respect to the fabrication of low-cost
autoclave capable tools for the production
of composite aerospace components.
The initial demo tool is for
an AFRL concept aircraft fuselage
skin. Boeing contracted Thermwood
to demonstrate capability of their Large Scale Additive
Manufacturing (LSAM) machine.
The Thermwood LSAM machine offers an innovative
additive manufacturing machine capability with its Vertical
Lay Print (VLP). The vertical lay print AM process provides
a significant cost benefit by increasing the size components
can be printed, thus reducing assembly cost for large tools.
To validate the VLP process using high temperature autoclave-
capable materials, Boeing and AFRL chose to 3D
print a section of the large tool to evaluate the LSAM functionality.
The Mid-Scale tool was
printed on Thermwood’s LSAM
Additive Manufacturing Demonstra -
tion machine in Southern Indiana
using a 40mm print core running
25% carbon fiber reinforced
The initial test tool has the same
width, height and bead path as the
final mold, incorporates all major features
of the final mold, but compressed
in length being only 4 feet long. The final tool will
be over 10 feet long. The Mid-Scale tool set a milestone
achievement as the first high temperature tool printed
using the VLP system. After final machining, the tool was
probed for surface profile and tested for vacuum integrity.
The tool passed room temperature vacuum test and
achieved dimensional surface profile tolerances.
The program is progressing to the next step, producing
a full size tool. Boeing and the Air Force are carefully documenting
all operational parameters of the project to transition
the technology to production programs. Additive
manufactured autoclave tooling offers significant advantages
over traditional methods of producing these tools.
3D printed tooling is less expensive and can be fabricated
in days or weeks rather than months.
AFRL is very interested in tooling approaches for the
Low-Cost Attritable Technology (LCAAT) program which has
a goal to break the cost growth curve and field new systems
faster. AFRL Program Manager Andrea Helbach says, “We
are interested in additively manufactured tooling’s ability
to reduce the cost and time to procure autoclave capable
tooling. Additionally, AM tooling supports changes in vehicle
design with minimal non-recurring expenses.”
LSAM is intended for industrial production. It is not a
lab, evaluation or demonstration machine, but is instead a
full-fledged industrial additive manufacturing system
intended for the production of large-scale components.
For more information, contact Jason Susnjara,
Thermwood Corporation, 904 Buffaloville Rd., Dale, IN
47523, 800-533-6901, Fax: 812-937-2956, E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: www.thermwood.com.