Boeing Frontiers
February 2003
Volume 01, Issue 09
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Integrated Defense Systems

Precision artists

Exact replicas boost testing, manufacturing


Precision artistsTucked away in the remote corner of the Boeing Developmental Center in Seattle, trophy-size replicas of commercial airplanes, jet fighters and various airplane parts line the entrance of a little- known operation called Rapid Products Manufacturing.

Inside, you'll find technicians, operators, scientists and engineers who can replicate practically anything Boeing needs—fast and economically, using technology called Rapid Prototyping.

Boeing organizations worldwide come to the RPM group when they need replicas for testing, trade shows, presentations, research and more. Using software and an engineering drawing, Rapid Prototyping technology turns soft, micro-thin synthetic materials, from the bottom up, into solid 3-D objects while you watch.

Rapid Prototyping is not limited to Boeing use, says Steve Pierce, RPM technical focal. Among other common applications, top surgeons use RPM-manufactured replicas of human organs to plan complex surgeries. Many everyday items are produced using Rapid Prototyping, such as jewelry, milk containers, pens, coffee pots and more.

At Boeing, engineers use Rapid Prototyping replicas for testing before manufacturing the actual airplane part. "Seeing a 3-D replica is far more of an advanced study of a given object than if it were rendered in 2-D," says Steve Cox, an RPM lead. "It's something that you can hold up close, see its details and review thoroughly before executing on a potentially costly project." Another benefit of Rapid Prototyping technology is that it can produce multiple replicas at once, Cox adds.

"Although we believe this is truly Star Trek technology," Pierce says, "we are still capable of producing replicas the old-fashioned way. However, the Rapid Prototyping method yields faster and more economical turnaround, which comes in handy when customers go through multiple test parts."

These replicas are used primarily for observation and testing, but the Rapid Prototyping machines also can build the inner workings of a part to replicate internal channels of a complex object. The Rapid Prototyping machines accommodate pieces up to 10 inches long, but they can also piece together parts to create a seamless, larger part. The RPM group also recycles materials, making business more cost efficient.

Rapid Prototyping products are not just for tests and prototyping. Airplane makers routinely use them in military and commercial aircraft as flight hardware, as real parts used in real time on real airplanes.

As part of Boeing Commercial Airplanes business unit, the RPM team produces its prototypes in Integrated Defense Systems' Boeing Development Center. Much of its work is for IDS customers.

"We're looking forward to working on new programs and continuing our work on existing ones," Cox says. "Rapid Prototyping has been incredibly instrumental in part testing, and the team would like to incorporate more flight hardware using this technology."


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
© 2003 The Boeing Company. All rights reserved.