It is well-established that additive manufacturing (AM) offers significant value for the aerospace industry. Recognizing this, Eaton’s Aerospace Group has developed an efficient and effective deployment model that enables the rapid distribution of additive manufacturing technology across a large, decentralized organization. The model has five fundamental aspects, including practical experience, on-site guidance, software tools, formal training, and effective communication.
Eaton recognized early on that additive manufacturing required a shift in thinking and would mean letting go of the old paradigms associated with conventional manufacturing methods that constrained designs. One of the ways we inspired this shift in thinking was by ensuring that every engineer had direct access to the technology and the freedom to experiment in an unconstrained environment.
To facilitate this, in addition to our Eaton Centers of Excellence in Southfield, Michigan, and Pune, India, Eaton’s Aerospace business purchased 55 printers and intentionally located them with every manufacturing and design engineering team in the organization. This enabled engineers to directly experience the power of AM for everything from manufacturing fixtures to developing models of new design concepts. The ability to think in terms of layered manufacturing and experiment with new concepts rapidly and cost-effectively—allowing engineers to hold parts a few hours after they were designed—has greatly impacted the energy and excitement in the organization.
In addition to printers, Eaton’s Aerospace business has identified pilot projects for both the operations team to implement on the factory floor and the product team to create innovative designs. These projects enable cross-functional teams consisting of engineering, quality, supply chain management, program management, and commercial members to collaborate and take ownership of projects, shepherding them through the different stages of development and into series production.
We have developed in-house tools that enable engineers to build cost models of AM-produced components, compare the different additive processes, and determine the design freedom tradeoffs between them. Since the industry is still maturing, tools like this are not readily available but are worth investing in to ensure the organization understands the technology, which can be successfully printed, and what cannot. In addition, these tools enable engineers to frame the business case and justify capital investments. Comparing different additive manufacturing techniques and materials in the software environment while at the same time understanding the impacts on the business case, allows Eaton’s engineers to converge on the best solution rapidly.
Eaton’s engineering team continues to strengthen their core competency in additive manufacturing. We have developed a well-defined training schedule and created in-house courses that can be accessed by employees globally. Training is encouraged not only for the engineering teams but also for the front-line commercial team members, supply chain associates, and quality personnel. Eaton has provided courses specifically designed for the marketing and sales organizations to help them understand the technology and seek opportunities with customers. And, the Aerospace Group holds recurring, onsite workshops and lunch-and-learn events that allow engineers to share examples of how they have used the technology to solve problems, advance concepts and cut development time. These events are well attended and offer an exciting look at how the latest technology is being utilized to drive real-time results.
All these efforts combine to ensure the deployment of AM within Eaton’s Aerospace business is rapid and effective. We’re currently utilizing the technology to offer our customers superior products and services. Using this approach, Eaton has secured production awards for additive components with three aerospace customers as well as completed our first flight test of a metal AM component in the early stages of our AM program. We are proud of the speed of our accomplishments and feel these results validate the effectiveness of the program.