Boom embraces the future of flight with 3D Printing

Supersonic air travel isn’t new but imagine having readily commercial supersonic flights since the Concorde retired in 2003, and this is where you have to be agile and think big.

Technology advancements in 3D printing has transformed how we design and manufacture aircraft, and this is exactly what Boom Supersonic has done with their goal of creating the world’s fastest airliner.

Ahead of building Overture, the company’s flagship airliner, Boom embraced 3D printing in nearly every facet of their 1/3 scale supersonic demonstrator, XB-1, which was unveiled in October 2020.

Printing multiple parts with the large 3″x2″x3″ print bed of the F900 (PHOTO: BOOM SUPERSONIC)

Having previous experience with 3D printing, Mike Jagemann, the Director of XB-1 production, brought in two Stratasys 3D printers – an F370 and Fortus 450mc— right away to help with prototyping. A Stratasys F900 3D printer was later added to additively manufacture tooling and production parts.

With 3D printing, we’ve been able to obtain parts very quickly and determine that they’re either going to work or that we need to make changes. Rather than spend eight hours in CAD trying to check space constraints, the engineer can continue working on other things. When the part is printed, they can check the fit.Mike Jagemann, Director of XB-1 production

Apart from saving time and resources during the build, the weight of the aircraft—a game-changer for all aerospace engineers was also significantly reduced. 3D-printed parts, depending on the choice of materials, are typically lighter than their traditional counterparts fabricated with steel and aluminum. With more than 340 unique 3D-printed parts on the XB-1, the combined weight reduction made a substantial difference.

A glance at the multiple 3D printed parts printed with Stratasys F900, F450mc, and F370 (PHOTO: BOOM SUPERSONIC).

More than 800 drill blocks were printed during the XB-1 production which supported the careful assembly of the titanium fuselage along with other printed jigs, including those for the cockpit bulkhead.

Initially, Boom developed tooling that relies on metrology to position one hole at time. It became clear however that this approach was too time-consuming. The team pivoted and 3D printed drill blocks, each incorporating multiple holes. That allowed them to use metrology to accurately position twenty or more holes instead of just one at a time, while mitigating potential damage to the aircraft.

“Without 3D printing, lead times for drill blocks would have been in the neighborhood of weeks, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars to fabricate out of aluminum,” says Jagemann.  “With in-house 3D printing, those same blocks took only a few days to print at a lower cost.Mike Jagemann, Director of XB-1 production
Mitigating any potential damage to the titanium aft fuselage, the custom 3D printed drill block also keeps the production on schedule (PHOTO: BOOM SUPERSONIC).

Competition, economic instability, and other factors in this post-COVID new normal are just challenges that every businesses face, but 3D printing can rise to the fore in blunting the risks to open new avenues for reducing production costs and accelerating manufacturing timelines to kick start the tentative recovery.

There is no better time especially with the Singapore aerospace sector getting a $40m boost over the next 3 years.


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