One for the Record Books

August 29, 2016 in Technology, Commercial

What weighs around 1,650 pounds and is about as long as a large sport utility vehicle? It’s the world’s “largest solid 3-D printed item,” created by Boeing and one of its research partners – and certified by GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS.

The record-setting object -- which measures 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall – is a wing trim and drill tool that Boeing will use to build its forthcoming 777X airplane. And it represents Boeing’s latest achievement in 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

The creation of this item “is just an example of what we can do with additive manufacturing,” said Leo Christodoulou, Materials & Manufacturing chief engineer at Boeing.

“Additively manufactured tools will save energy, time, labor and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3-D printing technology in key production areas,” Christodoulou said.

The making of this tool exemplifies the tremendous efficiencies that 3-D printing can generate. Making the object through traditional manufacturing methods would have required about three months, according to Mike Matlack, a Research and Development Materials and Process Engineer at Boeing and the company’s project manager for the 777X additive manufacturing project. Yet thanks to 3-D printing, the creation time was sliced to only 30 hours,

“Additive manufacturing can reduce the time it takes to prototype and test a new tool or aircraft part, at a lower cost,” he said.

Boeing has about 20 years of experience with this technology, having begun researching additive manfacturing in 1997. Today, there are about 50,000 3-D printed parts flying on Boeing commercial, space and military products.

Recent advances in 3-D printing have allowed companies such as Boeing, as well as researchers, to create parts of greater size and complexity.

The tool, which will be used to secure the 777X composite wing skin for drilling and machining, was printed last May at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), one of Boeing’s research partners. Since 2014, Boeing has worked with ORNL to develop a week-long training program for engineers focused on 3-D printing. So far, more than 100 Boeing engineers have completed the additive manufacturing training course at ORNL.

What’s next for the “Largest solid 3-D printed item”? The tool will soon be used in production at Boeing’s new St. Louis Composite Center of Excellence, where Boeing is designing and fabricating wing edge and empennage parts for the 777X.

An infrared video of the tool being made appears on Boeing’s Instagram page. Click here to see the video.

Shown here is a still frame of an infrared video of the making of the “Largest solid 3-D printed item.” The item, a 777X wing trim and drill tool, is 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall and weighs about 1,650 pounds.