in Aerospace

Icon ups advanced 3D printing capability

Posted 16 November 2017 · Add Comment

Nottinghamshire based Icon Aerospace Technology now has the capability to 3D print vital tooling 50% faster than ever before, enabling it to become even more responsive to market demand.

This achievement has been made possible thanks to a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Derby, which started in 2015. This saw the University’s Dr Farhan Khan undertake a sponsored research fellowship within the business, focused on product and process development. For the past two years, Dr Kahn has worked closely with Icon’s team of engineers to research new technologies and production methods which enable the business to heighten its competitiveness.

The programme has enabled Icon to develop the capability to 3D print mould tools, which speed up the production of its range of high quality polymer fire seals, used within aircraft engine and pylon environments. The technology enables locally controlled thermal capability which is considerably more efficient than traditional processes. For Icon, this means that it has significantly reduced the time to market of its products, slashing the time it takes to develop these moulds from six weeks to just one.

By working closely with Dr Khan, Icon’s highly skilled team has spent months analysing the path of thermal conductivity within different materials, understanding thermal management both within the mould and the chemical properties of various materials. With this knowledge, the business can successfully utilise 3D printing technology to develop other production tools throughout its product range. This flexibility is giving Icon the ability to rapidly produce and prototype new products before production to maximise performance and minimise cost both for itself, and customers.

Dan Bailey, Commercial Director of Icon Aerospace Technology explained: “Our fire seals are installed between two moving surfaces within an aircraft. As such, if one of these surfaces does not interface with the seal as anticipated the seal design must be recalculated to enable optimum performance. The ability to rapidly produce seal prototypes allows us to respond to design changes more quickly, and reproduce seals according to individual designs. This has significant benefits to our customers both in lead time reduction, a lower initial capital investment and enhanced cashflow at a period of low rate initial production (LRIP).”

The creation of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership was one step towards Icon’s adoption of 3D printing technology, which is now ingrained as a vital part of the overall production process. Dr Khan brought insights and knowledge gained during his MSc into the business, but Icon still had to create the environment and recruit the people required to embed new technology into the organisation.

Calvin Tan, CTO at Icon Aerospace Technology stated: “Working with Dr Khan and his colleagues at the University of Derby is a pleasure. Bringing academic success into industry is a key process for enhancing the technology of Icon. As we continue to innovate our products, people, and processes, it is vital that we embrace the knowledge and support of experts. Dr Kahn is introducing new technologies into our production process, and helping us all to understand how to best harness this to build a competitive advantage.”

Professor Paul Stewart, Director of Innovation at the University of Derby commented: "It has been a very positive experience to watch the development of the working relationship between Dr Khan and Icon in addition to the growing collaborative relationship with Derby University. This highly successful KTP has created an excellent platform for further R&D collaboration and I look forward to seeing the outputs from Dr Khan's work with Icon out in the marketplace"

Dr Khan commented: “When I began working with Icon there was a belief that 3D printing could help the business and it was my task to understand how. However, I couldn’t do this on my own and Icon has supported this initiative by creating a culture of innovation and idea exploration within the business. By working with the right people and adopting an open mindset, we have been able to not only introduce new technology into the business, but make it an important part of our every-day processes.”

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