The method is still so new that there are only a few professional production machines worldwide. One of them is located at FOTEC Forschungs- und Technologietransfer GmbH in Wiener Neustadt. Using this machine, a laser-sintered prototype fuel collector has now been fabricated for Austrian aircraft manufacturer Diamond Aircraft Industries GmbH. According to Dr. Gerhard Pramhas, Managing Director of FOTEC, "Using laser sintering, we were able to reduce the number of components from five down to one. Along with that went a weight reduction of 77 percent. This was made possible through the unique manufacturing technique." The raw material for laser sintering is a metallic powder. This is mechanically built up layer-by-layer to a powder base. After applying each layer, the powder is melted by a laser at specified locations. Subsequently, an additional layer of powder is applied and melted again at the pre-calculated locations. In this way, even the most complex components can be manufactured as one piece, one layer at a time.
There is a video of laser sintering at this link
Until now, the part had consisted of five individual pieces produced on a lathe that subsequently were customarily welded together. The pieces are partly hollow to facilitate fuel flow. And in addition, one of the components is threaded, which requires a separate step during production. With laser sintering of metal, the entire fuel collector with galleys and threads is able to be fabricated in one step. The production accuracies are in the range of hundreds of a millimetre and, in addition to the weight, the volume of the fuel collector could be reduced by almost 60 percent.
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