There is a “Catch-22” irony that plagues defense industry budgets; the more money spent on aging aircraft, the less money there is to buy new aircraft. It is a situation that will get worse before it gets better. According to a recent news story in Defense Industry Daily, “The current US Air Force fleet, whose planes are more than 26 years old on average, is the oldest in USAF history. It won’t keep that title for very long. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling tankers are more than 40 years old—and under current plans, some may be 70–80 years old before they retire.” As one senior military officer told CBS News recently, “Military aviation is in a death spiral.”
As the fleet ages and consumes all of the available replacement parts, maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operators face difficult financial choices in controlling their costs: either replicate titanium components from scratch through a lengthy and costly remanufacturing effort, or delay those expenses by cannibalizing other aircraft for “used” replacement parts, thereby decreasing the reliability of repaired aircraft while rendering some aircraft un-flyable. Fortunately, a US-based company has developed a manufacturing technology that offers a brighter cost-saving future for the replacement parts industry.
Additive Manufacturing Process
An exciting and cost-effective manufacturing technology is revolutionizing titanium parts manufacturing for the aviation, aerospace and defense industries. CalRAM fabricates three-dimensional, near net shape components by melting titanium (and other metal) powders one-layer at a time using an electron beam. Employing EBM machines built by Arcam, CalRAM’s tool-less additive manufacturing technology has the ability to rapidly create solid titanium objects faster and with less cost than traditional methods. Located in Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles, CalRAM is the only independent AS9100C certified, EBM-based manufacturer in the United States. Offering this technology to MROs and other suppliers in the aviation and aerospace industries, the company has been producing titanium components for airframe primes and gas turbine engine aircraft manufacturers for almost a decade.
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