Interview with Robin Day

"Additive manufacturing will make the aerospace industry more sustainable."

© projektelf

Laser Material Processing has been one of the Fraunhofer IPT's key topics since the 1990s. In 2020, the Directed Energy Manufacturing department was spun off from the Unconventional Manufacturing department. Its head, Robin Day, has since been single-mindedly expanding the topics of Laser Structuring and wire- and powder-based additive manufacturing. Together with his team, he aims to establish complete and end-to-end additive process chains from a single source.

Robin Day was already involved with Laser Powder Bed Fusion during his aerospace engineering studies at the University of Stuttgart. He began researching the lightweight potential of cabin components ten years ago. During his studies, he worked at Lufthansa Technik and N3EOS. At Airbus, he designed the A350 entrance door latch shaft. In 2017, he moved to Aachen and became a research associate at the RWTH Aachen University Chair of Digital Additive Production (DAP). There, he researched the possibilities of using LPBF in the production of turbomachinery together with MTU AeroEngines and Siemens Energy, among others.

What difference does additive manufacturing make to the aerospace industry?

Additive manufacturing is an important building block that will make the aerospace industry more sustainable. The greatest strength of additive manufacturing processes is undoubtedly how easily it can be customized and how low its material consumption is. While no aircraft will ever come out of a printer, there are very interesting applications for aircraft components. Examples include lightweight construction of metal-composite interfaces, functional integration in integral designs, repair, and direct on-site manufacturing of components.

One of our main focuses now is developing "green" manufacturing and surface treatment using hybrid processes. Here, we combine the advantages of subtractive and additive manufacturing technologies in such a way that maximum production efficiency is achieved both ecologically and economically. The new technology and interface concepts required for this are part of our research and development.

What can you offer the industry?

We offer industrial laser structuring and additive manufacturing processes. With the help of our laser structuring processes, various surface properties can be set, for example, hydrophilic or bio-active structures with structure sizes down to 200 nanometers.

The additive manufacturing processes we offer include the high precision laser powder bed fusion process, the faster laser metal deposition process and wire arc additive manufacturing for rapid semi-finished product production. We always focus on the complete process chain: from material to finished component. We accomplish this because we work in close cooperation with the different competences of Fraunhofer IPT and our partners from WZL, as well as our excellent technical infrastructure. This makes us the central point of contact for complete additive solutions and for the economic integration of additive manufacturing processes into existing production lines.

Where do you see us in five years?

In five years’ time, flying will still be an important means of transportation and will hold many high-tech challenges – also and especially in production. Regardless of the future energy and propulsion systems in use, some components will need to be manufactured additively, such as hydrogen combustion chambers and fuel cells. Thanks to some manufacturers, we will become more accustomed to using additively manufactured components in aerospace applications, and we will begin to use additive manufacturing profitably. This development will be supported by the digital methods and artificial intelligence being researched today, which will be used throughout design, manufacturing and quality assurance in the future.

What has been the most formative experience in your career so far?

I am currently working on my dissertation. Time and again, there have been and still are moments when science can be really tough. Results that you expect don't occur, or a well-thought-out theory turns out to be wrong. This is where I learned a big part of "never give up." Instead of being frustrated, discuss your issue with a colleague, talk to other experts. This helps you think outside the box, which is where the solution quite often lies.

What is the most important thing for successful research?

Understanding that there isn’t only one way to do something. Indeed, there is usually more than one solution. I am convinced that we need cooperation instead of isolation. That's why a good team spirit is my philosophy as a department head. Only together can we form a working community that never loses its passion to explore new things and continue to develop. In heterogeneous teams of young students and experienced researchers, we achieve this goal together.