An Application of Rapid Prototype Manufacturing Technology to the Design and Fabrication of Wind Tunnel Models

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), rapid prototyping technologies being developed for the space program have many uses in the commercial industry. When a concept is in the “selling” stage, a plastic model can be produced to serve as a visual aid. Wind tunnel models, used to provide performance test, can be produced at lower cost than traditional methods. Most wind tunnel models are CNC machined from aluminum (for low speed) or steel (for high speed) and even inconel (for cryogenic) tunnels. The addition of pressure taps is particularly expensive and time consuming and requires skilled workers with considerable experience. It is estimated that making models for wind tunnels typically cost on the order of $100,000- $500,000 depending on the sophistication of the model. Add to these costs, the cost for wind tunnel time and it becomes obvious that cost is a very limiting factor in the number of models that actually get built and tested. APL is using its unique capabilities in Rapid Prototype Manufacturing to help businesses save both time and money on their “design-to-product” costs for wind tunnel models.

The JHU/APL wind tunnel model invention fits important criteria for a useful, likely licensable technology. Clearly there is a demand for quicker, less expensive ways to produce wind tunnel models. This is evidenced both by the statement of people in the field, continuing research efforts to solve time and cost problems, and a simple cost comparison of conventional compared to rapid prototyping techniques. The APL invention has been built and tested and is thus a proven technology for which real test data exists. Indeed the specific cost and time savings of the APL approach are as good if not better than those predicted by experts in the field. The invention is feasible as a product/method because it uses fabrication technology which, although relatively new, is already extant and accepted. This technology represents an exciting licensing opportunity for established aerospace companies, or even a new start-up company dedicated to using this approach as the central focus of its business.

Type of Offer: Licensing

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