It took some time to get back to my “Showplanes Cowl with A/C left hand inlet plenum problem”, but this week I finally unleashed my new 3D printer on the problem, and the result was great.
This is a complex part, and I evaluated several different slicing applications to figure out how to do the necessary support structures. I wound up using Cura, because of its “Tree” support capabilities. It generates all sorts of weird tree trunk/branch constructs to support the part while it is being printed. This results in less interference between the support and the part.
It took 4 days 16 hours to print the part in ASA, using a bed temperature of 100 deg C and a 0.4mm nozzle at 250 deg C. I did gear up to use a dissolve-able filament (HIPS) between the support and the part, but decided for the first trial to simply use the one extruder. As it turned out, the support was easy to rip away with a pair of pliers, so I’ll stick with the single material process to save time and complexity.
There were a few areas where the support came slightly adrift, causing rough regions on the part. I need to fix this by manipulating the support to have better adhesion to the bed. It takes about 5 hours to render the model, another hour or so to “repair” the STL, and about an hour to slice the result and generate gcode for the printer. Although the part as printed is certainly usable, there are areas I can improve on. Since each printed part is a 5 day exercise from start to finish, and comes with a filament cost, I won’t be spinning revisions too often.
There are some new materials around, Polyamide with Carbon Fiber filler, which are stronger and have higher operating temperatures, up to 180 degrees C. I can print these materials if I install a hardened nozzle on the printer, but I’ll hold off on this until late in the build because the filament is expensive, and there are new products hitting the market all the time.
For now, I have the entire process under my own control and I’ve been able to print a perfectly acceptable part – mission accomplished for the inlet plenum, finally. Now I can finish the front baffles in this area.
How many hours have I spent on this? A lot, between assembling the printer from parts, calibration, printing test parts, evaluating slicer software and monitoring the printing of the plenum. None of this is really direct work on the air frame, so I’m going to simply log 1 hour for this activity, knowing full well that it was many times this.
Construction work has been spotty for the past few months due to some work commitments. Time to catch up on a few posts.
I received the prototype 3D printed inlet plenum, after a very long delay caused by Covid-19, a shipment lost in customs, reprinting a replacement, more shipping delays etc. This part was printed in ASA material by a vendor in Sweden. Quality is good apart from some areas where the wall thickness should have been greater.
The part fitted perfectly around / through the compressor, the air filter shroud mount etc. The inlet ramp was also good, perfectly horizontal and lined up with the opposite side (standard Showplanes fiberglass plenum) within 1mm, which is good enough for me. The front edge of the inlet ramp is too far forward, requiring me to trim too much of the cowling. While it would work, it doesn’t leave as much of the cowling inlet hole as I’d like, to get nutplates and some sort of overlapping seal in there. This is one of the areas where the wall thickness is also a bit low. Clearance on the bottom side to the cowling is good, a bit over 1/8″ at the closest point. The rear scat tube connection for a heat muff is also good.
Overall, close to a hole in one which I’m relieved about given how complex the part is. I can now proceed to finish the front of the baffles and around the governor. I’m going to need to address the wall thickness issue and trim back the front edge, which means re-printing the part. These are simple adjustments but I’m going to also look at whether any better alternatives exist than the ASA material I’ve used.
It’s really hard to see much from the pictures, because the 3D printed part is black, but they show the general idea.
Over the past month I’ve had to deal with something that was always going to stop the project dead in its tracks – sorting out how to mount an Airflow Systems A/C compressor inside a Showplanes cowl. The main problems are:
The A/C compressor doesn’t fit – it smashes into the cowl
The A/C compressor occupies almost all of the space normally used for the left hand air inlet plenum
I’ve seen other build efforts that range from leaving out the left hand induction air plenum entirely, to an A/C compressor mount position that occupies a good part of the area of the left hand inlet duct – in turn compromising the cooling air for cylinders #2, 4 and 6.
Recent efforts in Australia, such as this one, use a longer arm on the A/C mount to drop the compressor down low, and make a bump on the bottom cowling to suit. Armed with the latest mount kit from AFS, I proceeded to test mount the A/C compressor, and immediately ran into quite a bit more trouble than I had expected.
Tensioner wheel, bracket
The supplied drive system simply didn’t work. The tensioner (idler) wheel, using the supplied bracket, hits the starter motor. I can see that with the previous “short” arm, the system would swing up higher and that would free up enough room for the idler wheel to swing past the starter motor. I sent feedback to AFS about this but received no reply. After consulting with the Australian builder referenced above, it turns out the solution was to:
Add spacers, for a total of 7/16″ of spacing, to the engine mount. This moved the entire compressor assembly “away” from the starter motor by 7/16″.
Machine a replacement idler pulley, which was the same size as the AFS supplied pulley, but without the ridges on each edge – saving around 1.5mm of edge distance.
Make a longer arm, even longer than the “long” one AFS supply
I started making up additional spacers (AFS supplies three 0,063″ spacers), using 0.063″ Alclad, but I was only able to add two of these before I ran out of threads on the engine studs used for the A/C mount. I didn’t want to replace these studs, and I didn’t want to switch over to low profile lock nuts – the A/C compressor is quite heavy. So, my spacing limit without resorting to these measures was 0.3″.
The guy who did the VH-BKK installation referenced above graciously had another idler pulley made, and sent it down to me. Armed with this, I still needed to change the position of the idler mount, which means I have to build a new idler mount bracket. I’ve ordered some 6061-T6 plate to do this, in the meantime I drilled a new hole in the existing bracket (rendering it structurally unsound) just to prove I have the hole position correct. This is shown in the following picture, along with the new idler pulley. The clearances everywhere around this are very small, but this is typical and they will be adequate. The idler pulley can now swing up past the starter motor with about 1.5mm of clearance.
I also had to change the Serpentine belt, for this arrangement I fitted a 4PK1130 belt, rather than the 4PK1113 belt provided with the kit – just 17mm longer.
It is necessary to cut out a section on the front of the Showplanes cowl and fiberglass a bump in place to provide adequate clearance for the front of the A/C compressor. There’s nothing hard about this, and one good thing about the Showplanes cowl installation is that the Serpentine belt does not overlap the inlet at all (unlike with the Van’s cowl) – so there is no air leakage associated with treatment to clear the Serpentine belt, and no compromise to cooling air inlet area.
LHS Inlet Plenum
I had expected to solve this problem with various cuts and balloons etc. to the existing inlet plenum. After looking at the problem, I didn’t even attempt it because (a) this was going to beyond my fiberglass skills, and (b) this is probably beyond anyone’s fiberglass skills. There simply isn’t a clear enough path through the maze to make an adequate shape, and unless I could turn the plane upside down, gravity was always going to work against me.
After some soul searching, which included consideration of leaving the A/C system out, I decided to go ahead and create a 3D model of the entire system as a means to 3D print a replacement inlet plenum. The top end is identical to the Showplanes system, using the lower 1/3 of the circular inlet hole for induction air. The plenum has to step down and change shape, wrap around the bottom of the A/C compressor while clearing the bottom cowling, and then join in to a replacement shroud around the existing Showplanes air filter system. Here are some screenshots which include various early prototypes and the final model, which includes an air takeoff to account for the standard Van’s 2″ scat tube outlet for air to a heat muff.
The inlet plenum as shown can be 3D printed in one piece. It is secured at the bottom by three screws in the LH air filter shroud, using nutplates, same as the standard Showplanes arrangement. Around the compressor, two places mount to the A/C compressor lugs using Buna-N rubber spacers, AN3 bolts and washers. The vibration-damping spacers are rated to 200 degrees F which should be adequate. At the top, a flat Alclad plate which extends down from the existing #2 cylinder mounting flange is secured across the heat muff air inlet area, and at the very front of the inlet, using #6 countersink screws with nutplates on the underside of the inlet plenum. One of the front positions uses a low profile nut, embedded in a hex shaped hole, instead of a nutplate.
For the plenum material, the choices are currently between UV resistant ASA, or the more expensive UV resistant tough resin. Both have high glass transition temperatures and adequate chemical resistance. The plenum does not extend back too close to cylinder #2.
To prototype the system, I printed the plenum in sections on my cheap consumer grade 3D printer, using PLA, and taped the parts together. It takes about 100 hours of printing time to do the complete model, and I’ve made several revisions to refine the design and fix up the various maths mistakes I made along the way. It’s been a laborious process but I’m happy enough with the end result. It takes a high end desktop platform 15 hours to render the model in suitably fine detail, and a bit of repair processing to derive the final STL file. I uploaded the (64MB) STL file to http://www.craftcloud3d.com and was quoted just over U$200 to print the model in Black UV resistant ASA, with 40% infill.
Just today I pulled the trigger and ordered the final article, it’s being printed by a vendor in Sweden, and will be delivered here within two weeks. There is still a chance that the final piece will require some small adjustments. There’s a limit to how far I can go with taped together sections, and how many times I can re-measure everything. The final model is way more complex than I had expected, and has consumed far too much time, I’m tired of fretting about it so it’s a relief to get it off my desk.
In the meantime, there are a few other, much simpler pieces I can design to help with the baffling around the governor etc. I’ll complete these, but mostly I’ll be getting back to actual, real, physical work on the project – there is a lot still to do.
I’ve hung the engine, which took all of 20 minutes once I worked out how best to do it. It’ll have to come off again, so I’m leaving the engine lift set up. It has to come off again for several reasons:
The biggest reason – I have to do something with the sump oil line associated with the Barrett cold air induction scheme. There’s a VAF thread about it – here. This whole topic deserves a complete post, which I’ll do once I decide how to deal with it. Suffice to say, it is a nasty issue but until I have a strategy for this I can’t oil the engine.
With a B&C 90 degree oil filter adapter, the B&C 462-3H vacuum pad mounted alternator requires a 1.25 inch extension, which I mounted after changing to the correct studs. However, the clearance between the field wire connector and the firewall is not adequate. I’m going to modify the connector and bring the wire out the side so that there is adequate clearance. To do this I have to remove the engine.
While the engine is on, I’ve taken the opportunity to get out all the boxes containing everything that gets added to the engine, and verify that it all fits and I have the correct hardware. I found a few things:
The studs that Barrett installed for the PCU-5000X Governor are too short. They are probably the 3C-17 studs that are in the Lycoming parts list. They should be the 3C-19 studs, so I have to order four of these, remove the old studs, and install the longer ones before I can install the propeller governor.
The exhaust pipe for the #3 cylinder looks like it will impinge on the induction pipe for that same cylinder. If so, I’ll have to get that pipe modified.
I don’t have the engine mounting parts for the A/C compressor. I knew about this.
The A/C compressor will get in the way of the left air intake, requiring modification to the intake. I knew about this also.
One job I was able to complete with the engine on – I put a 1″ tie down strap between the front fork and the engine, cranked it down, and was able to easily compress the elastomers enough to get the retaining bolt in – without the engine on to establish the right leverage points, this is just about impossible.
I also made a doubler and drilled the fuselage to install the front ADSB antenna under the passenger seat.