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Ingersoll and Bell 3D Print 22-Foot-Long Rotor Blade Mold

Ingersoll and Bell have completed a 22-foot-long main rotor blade mold through a combination of 3D printing and five-axis machining, saving months compared to traditional processes.

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A photo of the 22-foot-long vacuum trim tool after its 3D printing, but before its machining

Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. and Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company, have announced the collaborative completion of a 22-foot-long vacuum trim tool for production of main rotor blade components, utilizing Ingersoll’s hybrid large-format MasterPrint gantry-type 3D printer and five-axis milling machine.

“We are continuously testing and advancing MasterPrint in our development center,” says Chip Storie, CEO at Ingersoll. “Among Ingersoll’s short-term objectives is for MasterPrint to 3D print molds for aerospace that preserve the geometrical properties and tolerances, vacuum integrity and autoclave resilience normally obtained with traditional technology, but with the cost and time reduction only additive manufacturing can offer. The relentless progress our MasterPrint process made in 2020 has finally made this target attainable.”

This production tooling effort 3D printed 1,150 pounds of ABS material with 20% chopped carbon fiber fill as a single part in a continuous, 75-hour operation. After printing, Ingersoll swapped the MasterPrint’s head to its five-axis milling head, machining mold surfaces and tooling location features to finished dimensions at full vacuum tightness in one week. Ingersoll and Bell seamlessly co-engineered both the additive and subtractive manufacturing processes in the native CAD software format.

The 3D print fabrication and five-axis machining operations saved months of manufacturing time — the traditional build cycle for a typical large aluminum mold such as the one the companies produced lasts between four and five months using standard methods. Ingersoll and Bell completed this different manufacturing process in a matter of weeks.

“Utilizing this rapid manufacturing equipment will allow Bell to greatly accelerate our development of tooling for many applications within the Bell organization,” said James Cordell, senior manager of Process Stability at Bell.

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