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Taking flight with additive manufacturing

Royal Netherlands Air Force is using additive manufacturing to help maintain its fleet of helicopters, fighter jets and cargo planes.

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The Ultimaker at the Woensdrecht Air Force Base in the Netherlands

Using Ultimaker’s desktop solution for additive manufacturing, Royal Netherlands Air Force is able to quickly and affordably create tools that fit the specific parts of an aircraft.

Bas Janssen, a member of the Ambition Innovation Results (AIR) division at Royal Netherlands Air Force, started to use Ultimaker 3D printers in his workshops which focus on teaching and learning about manufacturing techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing.

After noticing its popularity amongst students and teachers, the air base then implemented 3D printers across the maintenance department. From there, engineers could create tools quickly and affordably, each tool custom-made and tailored to serve the specific applications.

Our transition to a fifth-generation Air Force can only be done with people who realise that they can be a part of the change now, not later

Janssen comments: “Our transition to a fifth-generation Air Force can only be done with people who realise that they can be a part of the change now, not later. Ultimaker makes it possible to do just that: help people understand what additive manufacturing can do for them right now - without a long learning curve. The current software and hardware help people to make their ideas come to life.”

In the last two years, Royal Netherlands Air Force has been able to print numerous parts to aid the operation and maintenance of its fleet. When jet engines are transported, certain openings need to be covered with a special cap. These parts are expensive to buy and take a long time to be delivered – but by using the Ultimaker the parts can be printed in two hours.

The technology has allowed the air force to print bigger parts and begin working with more advanced materials. For the metal parts that have to be CNC machined, the 3D printers are used first to prototype and fit test the parts before making the actual part.

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