Project MEDAL to apply machine learning to aero innovation

Metallic alloys for aerospace components are expected to be made faster and more cheaply with the application of machine learning in Project MEDAL.

Project MEDAL
Close up image of laser melting titanium powder (© Copyright Renishaw plc)

This is the aim of Project MEDAL: Machine Learning for Additive Manufacturing Experimental Design, which is being led by Intellegens, a Cambridge University spin-out specialising in artificial intelligence, the Sheffield University AMRC North West, and Boeing. It aims to accelerate the product development lifecycle of aerospace components by using a machine learning model to optimise additive manufacturing (AM) for new metal alloys.

How collaboration is driving advances in additive manufacturing

Project MEDAL’s research will concentrate on metal laser powder bed fusion and will focus on so-called parameter variables required to manufacture high density, high strength parts.

The project is part of the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP), a £10m initiative for UK SMEs to develop innovative aerospace technologies funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and delivered in partnership with the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and Innovate UK.

In a statement, Ben Pellegrini, CEO of Intellegens, said: “The intersection of machine learning, design of experiments and additive manufacturing holds enormous potential to rapidly develop and deploy custom parts not only in aerospace, as proven by the involvement of Boeing, but in medical, transport and consumer product applications.”

“There are many barriers to the adoption of metallic AM but by providing users, and maybe more importantly new users, with the tools they need to process a required material should not be one of them,” added James Hughes, research director for Sheffield University AMRC North West. “With the AMRC’s knowledge in AM, and Intellegens’ AI tools, all the required experience and expertise is in place in order to deliver a rapid, data-driven software toolset for developing parameters for metallic AM processes to make them cheaper and faster.”

Aerospace components must withstand certain loads and temperature resistances, and some materials are limited in what they can offer. There is also simultaneous push for lower weight and higher temperature resistance for better fuel efficiency, bringing new or previously impractical-to-machine metals into the aerospace sector.

One of the main drawbacks of AM is the limited material selection currently available and the design of new materials, particularly in the aerospace industry, requires expensive and extensive testing and certification cycles which can take longer than a year to complete and cost as much as £1m. Project MEDAL aims to accelerate this process.

“The machine learning solution in this project can significantly reduce the need for many experimental cycles by around 80 per cent,” Pellegrini said: “The software platform will be able to suggest the most important experiments needed to optimise AM processing parameters, in order to manufacture parts that meet specific target properties. The platform will make the development process for AM metal alloys more time and cost-efficient. This will in turn accelerate the production of more lightweight and integrated aerospace components, leading to more efficient aircraft and improved environmental impact.”