Fraunhofer ILT wins award for laser additive BLISK manufacturing

Annually, Aviation Week magazine awards excellent solutions for the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry. Sought-after are new developments, e.g., for sinking production costs and improving integration of innovative technologies. The team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT (Aachen, Germany) has won the 2012 Innovation Challenge in the category “Power and Propulsion” for its laser additive manufacturing process of BLISKs.

Aachen, Germany – Turbomachines form the heart of power plants and airplanes. As the need for energy and mobility grows, so too does the demand for turbomachines as providers of energy. What is currently at stake is designing them in such a way that they produce more energy and less CO2 while using less fuel.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT and the Fraunhofer Institute for LaserTechnology ILT have a goal of implementing processes for the manufacture and maintenance of energy-efficient turbomachines.Together with the Fraunhofer Society and the German Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia, they haved established the Aachen Fraunhofer Cluster for Innovation “Integrative ProductionTechnology for Energy-Efficient Turbomachines” with a total volume of 10.25 million Euros. Also part of the project are 16 industrial enterprises, including global players such as MAN Diesel &Turbo, Siemens PG, Rolls-Royce Deutschland and MTU Aero Engines.

BLISKs are important components for aircraft engine and turbineconstruction, consisting of disks with integrated compressor blades. Currently BLISKs are produced with conventional manufacturing processes, e.g. five-axis milling, creating a great loss of material and use of energy and time, and causing very high production costs. Within the Fraunhofer Cluster for Innovation “TurPro” – in cooperation with Rolls-Royce Deutschland Ltd & Co KG as well as in partnership with the Fraunhofer IPT – the Fraunhofer ILT has developed a laser-based process  that preserves resources during manufacture and maintenance of BLISKs.

In this process, a powder feed nozzle applies a layer of nickel or titanium-based alloy exactly where a blade should be formed on the disc with the highest precision. Then, the laser beam melts  the powder and joins it with the underlying material. This way, a compressor blade can be built layer by layer. This additive manufacturing method, Laser Material Deposition LMD, is also suitable for maintaining components. Using the innovative manufacturing technology, the Aachen researchers have been able to save materials by up to 60 percent as compared to conventional processes and to shorten the overall manufacturing time by around 30 percent, all of which slashes the production costs of BLISKS significantly.

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