The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has launched a test facility for new additive manufactured heat exchangers (HX).

The testing capability will meet the requirements of the AFRL’s Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low-cost Sustainment (MAMLS) project.

Led by the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), MAMLS is an initiative designed to enable additive manufacturing for low-cost effective maintenance and sustainment of the US Air Force’s (USAF) legacy aircraft.

The use of additive manufacturing will help the USAF address the shortage of critical parts.

The HX tester facility is informing MAMLS on the advantages and limitations of using 3D printing to manufacture fuel-oil coolers, a type of heat exchanger.

MAMLS is working on developing additive manufactured fuel-oil coolers. UDRI’s partners in the project include DRT Aerospace and General Electric.

So far, three completed fuel-oil coolers have been received by UDRI. The project team started testing to evaluate metrics such as flow rate, pressure drop, and inlet / outlet temperatures of the AM coolers.

UDRI Project Lead Tim Osborn said: “Additive manufacturing is enabling fabrication of heat exchangers with increased capabilities that have never been created before.

“To evaluate the performance of these new designs, an improved HX testing capability was needed. This testing capability will establish a testbed for new HX designs so that the airforce can evaluate manufacturing and performance characteristics.”

The new testing capability will support the USAF’s efforts to keep legacy aircraft flying.

Once the MAMLS project is completed, the test rig would be made available for government and industry.

MAMLS program manager Marvin Gale said: “Working together, we were able to maximise testing resources of the MAMLS programme, as well as develop an enduring testing capability for AFRL and industry use in the future.  It’s truly a win-win situation.”