RAF Squadron Opens AM Center For Innovation

Published on October 25, 2022 by Claire S.
RAF personnel in front of the Calibur3 printer

The RAF’s 71 (IR) Squadron has opened a new additive manufacturing hub with which they hope to use metal 3D printing for the repairs of metal aircraft parts. The creation, named the Hilda B Hewlett Centre for Innovation, promises to kickstart the RAF’s use of additive manufacturing to increase capabilities. In the ceremony, the opener Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston thanked the squadron, the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office and Project Astra (which aims to build the ‘Next Generation RAF’) for their work in making the project a reality.

The project has been two years in the making, having been started by Squadron Leader Hayward in 2020 (then commanding officer of No. 71 Squadron). In 2021, a £3million contract was offered by the RAF High Wycombe, and eventually awarded to Wayland Additive. The company will now supply their Additive Calibur3 3D printer for its very first use. They are the only supplier on the market which uses Neubeam technology, a patented method which neutralizes the electron charge associated with the electron beam powder bed fusion process. In this way, it claims to overcome many of the disadvantages of electron beam and laser PBF processes.  Furthermore, the RAF will have at their disposal the Nikon HTX 540 CT scanner, which can examine objects in minute detail, as well as a Stratasys Fortus 450 polymer printer and RenAM 500 metal printer from Renishaw. 

Staff in front of the new RAF Center

Personnel in the new Hilda B Hewlett Centre for Innovation

The importance of the center was made clear by the RAF. They pointed out that in 2020 alone, they could have achieved 25 days of extra aircraft availability using 3D printing solutions. Furthermore, the quality, speed, and cost of low-volume, high-value parts can be improved by 10 times through use of this technology. The RAF also point out that success could lead to endorsement and adoption of additive manufacturing throughout the defense industry. Indeed, some parts of certain sectors have already begun use of the technology. The Ministry of Defence has recently awarded a £3-5 million contract for 3D printed metal parts with the possibility of further future investment. As for the US, the Navy has opened an AM Center of Excellence which promises to promote and endorse additive manufacturing for needed parts, such as submarine components. 

As the requirement for defense investment continues, both in the UK and the US, it seems likely that more and more organizations might recognize the importance of additive manufacturing. Metal AM in particular is useful for the repair of broken or damaged parts; something relatively common in the defense industry, as parts can undergo high mechanical stress through use.

71 (IR) Squadron in the workwear for AM

RAF 71 (IR) Squadron in the additive manufacturing workwear

What do you think of this project and new center? What could it mean for this squadron? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

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