Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed 3-D printed trim-and-drill tool that has been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest solid 3-D printed item. According to ORNL, the 3-D printed structure is 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, is comparable in length to a large sport utility vehicle, and weighs approximately 1,650 pounds. ORNL printed the trim tool in 30 hours using carbon fiber and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic composite materials, which will be tested for the Boeing 777X passenger jet.
According to Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials, printing the tool with composites, as opposed to traditional metals, comes with many benefits.
“The existing, more expensive metallic tooling option we currently use comes from a supplier and typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques,” said Christodoulou. “Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labor and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.”
The world record is the latest in the laboratory’s advances in large-scale additive manufacturing composites research. Last year, ORNL won a CAMX Award for its collaboration with Cincinnati Incorporated on Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) Technology, which was used to print the now world record trim-and-drill tool. BAAM creates 3-D large-scale products up to 10 times larger than currently producible. It also works at speeds 200 to 500 times faster than existing additive machine.
“The recognition by Guinness World Records draws attention to the advances we’re making in large-scale additive manufacturing composites research,” said Vlastimil Kunc, the leader of ORNL’s polymer materials development team. “Using 3D printing, we could design the tool with less material and without compromising its function.”
According to ORNL, after the lab completes verification testing for the tool, Boeing plans to use the tool in the company’s new production facility in St. Louis and will keep ORNL informed on the tool’s performance. The tool will be used to secure the jet’s composite wing skin for drilling and machining before assembly.
Production of the 777X is scheduled to begin in 2017 and first delivery is targeted for 2020.