Airplane tool sets world record for largest 3D-printed object

It's been amazing to see the evolution of 3D printing over the past few years. At first there was so much novelty around the additive manufacturing process. People were printing small plastic figures from computer designs to demonstrate the technology, but it was always clear that the potential was far larger.

From medical advancements to engineering marvels, 3D printing is becoming a serious part of our world and how its made and the scale of what's being printed is growing. Putting the limits of the technology to the test, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have designed and printed the world's largest solid 3D printed solid object.

The trim-and-drill tool used in the building of airplane wings was developed for building Boeing's 777X passenger jet. The tool is 17.5 feet long (about the size of a large SUV), 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall and weighs 1,650 pounds. It took 30 hours to print the tool using layers of carbon fiber and ABS thermoplastic composite materials.

Guinness World Records was there to observe, measure the tool, which had to exceed 10.6 cubic feet, and announce the official world record title.

wing tool 3d print© Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The tool shows the scope of what 3D printing is capable of, but it also makes a major improvement in the manufacturing of aircraft, saving time and money.

"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 Leo Christodoulou, Boeing's director of structures and materials. "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 laboratory said that they were able to create the tool using less material while maintaining the same level of function.

The tool will now head to Boeing's St. Louis production facility where it will be used to secure the 777X's composite wing skin for drilling and machining. The new jet will start being produced in 2017 and hit the skies in 2020.

Tags: 3D printing | Airplanes | Boeing | Technology


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