Army Begins First Flight Tests on Aircraft Parts Printed with HRL Additive Aluminum Feedstock
The US Army has joined the revolution in 3D-printed high-strength aluminum that began in 2017 with the launch of HRL Laboratories’ functionalized aluminum powder. Two cargo links produced using HRL’s 7A77 powder were installed on operational H-47 aircraft at Fort Campbell, KY in support of an extended flight test program.
“The really cool thing is that these are the first Army-developed 3D-printed metal parts ever flown on Army aircraft,” said Jake Hundley, Director of HRL’s Materials and Microsystems Lab. “Our partners at NCDMM, The Barnes Global Advisors, Beehive Industries, and Penn United used HRL’s high-strength 7A77 alloy to print and finish parts that exceed the Army’s specifications. Considering the US Army is an entity older than our country, participating in a first with them is a big accomplishment. We are very proud to be a part of such a historic test flight.”
In the past, H-47 cargo link assemblies were produced from aluminum alloy forgings with limited qualified suppliers. As the first high-strength, 7000-series aluminum alloy compatible with 3D printing, HRL’s 7A77 powder exceeds the mechanical performance of the previous H-47 forgings. Because this functionalized powder can be processed in a variety of commercial off-the-shelf 3D printers, supply chain challenges with H-47 maintenance and sustainment can be significantly reduced.
HRL’s functionalized powder and its resulting printed alloy are the first 3D-printed alloy and feedstock given their own designation numbers by the Aluminum Association, 7A77.60L and 7A77.50, respectively. Manufacturing of the 7A77 cargo link assemblies was funded by NCDMMs AMNOW program, which is aimed at demonstrating a digital additive manufacturing supply chain for the US Army using actual use cases, such as the cargo link. NCDMM also runs America Makes, the nation’s leading public-private partnership for additive manufacturing technology and education. More information on America Makes and the AMNOW program team can be found here:
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HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California (hrl.com) is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.
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