Sean Gallagher is a senior additive manufacture development engineer at BAE Systems and a QEPrize Ambassador. We spoke to him to find out a little more about what additive manufacturing really is, and how it can revolutionise design and engineering in the world of aerospace.
What is additive manufacturing and how does it help?
Additive manufacture, or 3D printing, is still a relatively new technology, which has grown massively in the last decade. The growing availability of new metallic and plastic materials continues to develop the scope of the technology, and therefore the impact it can have.
Whilst still supporting modelling and rapid prototyping to help us speed up design development, we can now start to develop products which are more fit for purpose. These can be made quicker, are lighter and often cheaper than conventional methods would allow. All of this means we can be more adaptable to meet our customer’s needs, using a technology that allows us to be more responsive and affordable than ever before.
Additive technology is also growing in other sectors, for example, the medical market uses this process to manufacture bespoke dental and other implants.
Tell us a bit more about your role…
My role is to drive and support the development of additive technologies at BAE Systems. Working with colleagues across the business, I explore the opportunities for applying this type of technology, and then look to academia, research centres and the wider industry to find solutions.
The main drive in my role is to prove that these new, disruptive technologies are good enough for us to adopt for use on our aircraft and other products around the business.
How did you get into this area of engineering?
I started my career with BAE Systems in 2008 as an apprentice. During my apprenticeship, I completed my level 3 NVQ in Engineering; a Higher National Certificate (HNC) & Higher National Diploma (HND); and seven placements around the business.
These placements were really varied, covering everything from design to wind tunnel testing. After my apprenticeship, I started a job as an airframe integration engineer, working with cutting edge technologies such as additive manufacturing, 3D scanning and augmented reality.
This role then merged into a specific additive developer role, giving me responsibilities for both metallic and non-metallic development in the past few years. I have also completed a BEng (Hons) in Mechanical & Production Engineering alongside my day job, sponsored by BAE Systems.
What does a typical work day look like?
My days are usually very different, so there isn’t really a typical day! In this department, we are always looking for new opportunities to exploit additive technology. This means I could be working with colleagues from within our business to develop a new design solution to an existing problem, or working with academic or industry partners to better understand what is going to be the next big opportunity.
Why is additive manufacturing important in the aerospace industry?
Additive technology will be very important in the future of the aerospace industry. Throughout a product’s lifecycle, there are opportunities to develop, change and improve what the aircraft structure and systems can do.
Additive technology is one way to do this and can offer significant benefits. It can speed up production, save money, reduce the weight of a finished product and minimise waste. It can also enable us to design and build components that cannot be made any other way.
It is important to recognise that additive manufacturing can’t make everything, at least not yet! However, it does some things really well, and the key is to find those opportunities and exploit them.
What is your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part of my job is the diversity of what I do. I am lucky enough to work across multiple products in the air sector and work with experts in additive manufacturing across the UK and internationally. The fact that the technology is very agile and disruptive makes it a very exciting place to work.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in aerospace engineering?
The aerospace industry has such a wide variety of roles involved to enable these advanced machines to fly in our skies safely. It is also a very heavily regulated industry, so a great place to learn really high quality engineering skills.
At BAE Systems, we engineer and manufacture some of the most advanced and complex products in the world and being a part of delivering them definitely offers huge job satisfaction. I would recommend the aerospace industry to anyone, as it is highly rewarding and interesting.
In terms of advice, I could only recommend being open to challenges. You will be challenged every day to learn, improve, grow and keep both the business and the industry moving forward!
The winning design of the Create the Trophy competition is to be printed by BAE Systems’ Samlesbury plant using additive manufacturing. The finished trophy will be presented to the winners of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering at Buckingham Palace later this year.
You can watch the 2015 trophy coming to life in the video below.