Collins Aerospace laser focused on advancements in additive manufacturing

West Des Moines facility invests in second 12-laser NXG XII 600 printer

Approaching the one-year anniversary of its $14 million, 9,000-square-foot expansion, Collins Aerospace’s West Des Moines facility continues to ramp up its additive manufacturing capabilities.

The company recently added a second 12-laser NXG XII 600 printer. The printers boast speeds 20 times faster than the three standard single-laser printers that the facility invested in several years ago, according to the company. 

While the traditional subtractive manufacturing method required taking metal away to make parts, the additive process involves taking powder metal and using a powder bed fusion machine as well as lasers to weld the metal into the desired part, Renee Begley, director and general manager at Collins Aerospace, said. It involves building objects layer by layer, taking advantage of 3D modeling and advanced fiber materials. 

“We’ve been investing in additive manufacturing for nearly 15 years, and we’re really at the point where we’re ready to make that next step and continue to invest in additive and really bring it to life in aerospace,” Begley said. 

In 2016, the West Des Moines location received its first additive manufacturing machine, which was capable of producing objects smaller than about 1 cubic foot. The first of the new 3D-metal printers installed on site produces parts that are eight times larger in volume. 

The production-ready facility designs and produces engine components for commercial and military aircraft. It is one of nine in the United States that has received the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program certification for additive manufacturing. 

Begley said additive manufacturing helps reduce lead time, which is the time it takes to create a product and deliver it to a consumer, and lowers costs. 

“Right now, we’re seeing definitely constraints in the supply base, so this really enhances and increases our capabilities to support our customers,” she said. “We still do a lot of traditional subtractive manufacturing. What this is doing is giving us another option, another tool in the toolbox to change how we interact with our customers and how we serve them.”

The second NXG XII 600 printer on site won’t be the last investment in additive manufacturing for the West Des Moines facility. 

“We’ll add capacity as we need it,” Begley said. “We’re continuing to grow and invest, and we’re identifying new opportunities where we can utilize additive manufacturing.”

German metal 3D printer manufacturer SLM Solutions first launched the NXG XII 600 at the Formnext Connect trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, in November 2020. 

The large-format machine is equipped with 12 one-kilowatt lasers that can operate simultaneously. It was custom designed to mass-produce large parts, and its enhanced size and speed have opened up serial production applications for the system in the automotive and aerospace sectors. 

Popularity in additive manufacturing has been on the rise in the U.S. The U.S. additive manufacturing market accounted for $3.24 billion in sales in 2022 and is estimated to reach about $20.83 billion by 2032, according to worldwide market research and consulting organization Precedence Research’s report released in 2023. It’s expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20.5% from 2023 to 2032.