Jets fly carrying printed parts

An RAF Tornado aircraft
An RAF Tornado aircraft
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A 3D printed metal component created by its engineers has flown for the first time on-board a Tornado fighter jet, BAE Systems has revealed.

The 3D metal camera bracket was successfully flown from the company’s airfield at Warton.

Meanwhile, engineers are designing and producing 3D printed functional components at RAF Marham, which will cut the cost of repairs, maintenance and service to the Royal Air Force to the tune of more than £1.2m over the next four years.

The company’s combat engineering team is using 3D printing to engineer ready-made parts for supply to four Squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft – including protective covers for Tornado cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for Power Take-off shafts.

These parts, formed from plastic, are used in the support and maintenance of the aircraft at Marham.

With some of the parts costing less than £100 per piece to manufacture, 3D printing has already resulted in savings of more than £300,000, and will offer further potential cost savings of more than £1.2m between now and 2017.

Mike Murray, head of Airframe Integration at BAE Systems, said: “You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things.

“You can manufacture the products at whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can 
also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers.

“And if it’s feasible to get machines out on the front line, it also gives improved capability where we wouldn’t traditionally have any manufacturing support.”

BAE Systems employs around 11,000 workers at its Warton and Samlesbury sites.