Missiles produced with 3D technology
Shaping the future. This seems to be the motto of the MBDA production facility in Fusaro (NA, Italy). In fact, in recent months this site has experienced enormous change in the production of missile systems. Several components are manufactured through Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), or 3D printers. The site, located near Naples, has a workforce of about 400 employees engaged in production, integration and R&D activities, and it is a centre of excellence of MBDA group, the European leader in missile systems.
The potential of additive technologies in industry are manifold: they offer the ability to process metallic or polymeric materials in a highly flexible manner, making use of the 3D CAD model. This technology allows an almost absolute freedom of forms and the ability to make changes to products without significant investment of time and costs in machine set-up.
In this facility, 3D printers were introduced and integrated with the existing machinery that has a long production history. The facility has boasted a mechanical manufacturing area equipped with the main technologies that focus on this type of processing (special processes, high precision machining and metrology) for quite some time. The new 3D printers now produce small mechanical parts of the missile structure, which have complex geometry and make use of a wide range of materials such as steel, aluminium and titanium. The current machining processes of these materials provide for extremely tight tolerances, which can also reach values of up to a few microns. As additive technology is currently not capable of providing precisions of less than 50 microns, all printed parts undergo subsequent finishing at traditional high precision machining centres.
MBDA engineers and technicians engaged in the design and development of innovative production systems hope to extend this technology to new products, so as to be manufactured with additive technology right from their conception.
The added value of additive manufacturing
The main advantages offered by ALM are the reduction of time for product manufacturing and marketing, the economic savings of objects that are particularly complex or made of materials that are difficult to machine, greater creativity in the design stage permitted by a reduction of design constraints, access to "performance" that is not obtainable with traditional technologies and weight reduction, which is crucial for any avionics product.
This is why MBDA has made significant investments and transformations within the mechanics area of Fusaro in recent years, thus creating a department where cutting-edge modernity and innovation are combined with traditional technologies. This combination is employed for the production of missiles, redesigning the part through Reverse Engineering, industrialising production with 3D systems and finishing the product with the required machining and/or special galvanic processes.