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HOW IT'S MADE – A 3D printed tool for aircraft wing preform made in 60 hours instead of 4 weeks

IDEC saves 67% costs using Stratasys additive manufacturing system to produce preform tool in less than 60 hours instead of 4 weeks typically required using conventional manufacturing methods.

Stratasys reveals how Spanish provider of composite solutions for aerospace, IDEC, has cut the time, cost and material waste involved with traditional composite molding, thanks to its use of Stratasys additive manufacturing.

In a government-funded project, IDEC set about achieving these efficiency objectives by exploring the capabilities of Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) technology. This centered around the testing of a new composite material and its molding process for the manufacture of a curved aircraft wing.

With the support of advanced prototyping service provider, Wehl & Partner, IDEC overcame a challenging requirement to replace aluminum in a tooling application involving electric current. Specifically, this required a preform tool to be produced in a high-temperature and high-pressure resistant material.

Using its Stratasys’ F900 Production System, acquired through Stratasys’ Spanish distributor, Pixel Sistemas, Wehl & Partner selected the non-conductive and resilient ULTEM 1010 resin to manufacture a large-scale preform tool. The material’s good chemical and heat-resistance enabled it to withstand the required temperatures exceeding 150°C, as well as high pressures.

What is the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) ?
The Stratasys F900 is built specifically for manufacturing and heavy industries, where you plan and work big. With the largest build size of any FDM system, it’s designed to handle the most demanding manufacturing needs.

Stratasys FDM Technology for 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

Video of Stratasys FDM Technology for 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) explanation


  1. Achieve faster build time for large parts by adding the Acceleration Kit to your printing system and scale up production quickly.
  2. Enhanced efficiency and visualization for your part designs by directly importing the most commonly used CAD file formats into GrabCAD Print.
  3. Production phase optimization with Insight Software lets you change your designs on the fly, revise production materials, and more, all without delaying your overall production schedule.
  4. Automated production and monitoring capability with MTConnect-readiness with remote internal cameras, dew point monitor, dual material bays and high-capacity material options.
  5. Fewer production system breakdowns because the printing system is built with many of the same standard, engineering-grade and high-performance thermoplastics used in traditional manufacturing processes.

“Lead time to produce preform tool slashed from 4 weeks to 60 hours”
-Diego Calderón, Structural Analysis Manager at IDEC

According to Diego Calderón, Structural Analysis Manager at IDEC, these attributes simplified the preform production process, and also delivered huge efficiency savings:

“Stratasys additive manufacturing enabled us to produce the preform tool in just 60 hours. With CNC machining, it would have taken at least four weeks to produce this type of part,”

“Indeed, not only did we slash the production lead-time on the preform tool, but we also expedited the whole composite molding process.

“In fact, with ULTEM 1010 resin, we reduced the composite heating stage from one hour to only ten minutes by flowing the electrical current directly through composite fabrics. This would simply not have been possible without Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing,”

Crucially, the team has also been able to save up to 67% of the costs of CNC machining using aluminum. 

What does preform tool look like?
The preform tool offered perfect mechanical properties to resist high temperatures, enabling the team to reduce the carbon fiber heating stage from one hour to ten minutes

Preform tool produced with the Stratasys F900 Production System using ULTEM™ 1010 resin
Preform tool produced with the Stratasys F900 Production System and ULTEM 1010 resin

Overcoming an unusual challenge
IDEC’s particular constraint in producing the aircraft wing centred around the preform tool itself. Designed to facilitate the composite lay-up process into the mold at a later stage and accelerate the curing process, such preform tools are typically made of aluminum or epoxy resin. The composite fiber is laid up on top of the preform and the tool is subsequently heated to take the shape of the mold.

The challenge in this instance, was that instead of heating the preform tool, the unusual application required the composite material itself to be heated using an electric current sent through the composite fiber. Consequently, highly conductive metals like aluminum were inappropriate and would prevent the current from effectively going through the fabric.

The preform tool offered perfect mechanical properties to resist high temperatures, enabling the team to reduce the carbon fiber heating stage from one hour to ten minutes

Preform tool enables the team to reduce the carbon fiber heating stage from one hour to ten minutes

According to Calderón, standard epoxy materials available inside the company were neither resistant nor stable enough to withstand temperatures exceeding 140°C. 

“This project required high temperatures of between 150°C and 180°C to heat the fabrics directly, which made Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing and the use of ULTEM 1010 resin, in particular, the perfect choice,” he explains. “Although there are epoxy resins resistant to such high temperatures, these are very expensive, and would not have been financially viable.”

For IDEC, its use of ULTEM 1010 resin resulted in a preform tool with perfect mechanical properties that has enabled the company to utilize it as part of the RTM process. According to Calderón, the preform is so solid that the team can use it for at least 25 cycles, something simply not possible with epoxy or other additive manufacturing technologies and similar materials.

The final curved aircraft wing part

IDEC saves time and cost associated with traditional composite molding using additive manufacturing

The final composite curved aircraft wing part.

Companies: IDEC AERO, Stratasys

Industries: Aerospace

Technologies: Other Processing Method, RTM

Terms: Applications, Innovations, News Worldwide

This article has been edited by Basalt.Today
This article has been written on JEC Composites Magazine
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