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The Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) has made the headlines in the world of 3D printing after the research aircraft successfully tested a newly developed 3D-printed optical ice probe. The titanium instrument is able to detect the formation of ice particles by using optical fibres that emit light into any ice that has formed over the sensor head. If ice is present then the light will be reflected back and detected by the sensor.

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The small 3D printed sensors can be incorporated into any ice-accreting surface on the aeroplane, or into internal engine turbines. The sensors will enable more precise use of aircraft ice protection systems by activating the system only in areas where ice has been detected, rather than the current method where the whole system is activated in response to icy conditions. 

The 3D printed ice probe was manufactured by GKN aerospace, who recieved full support from FAAM in the design, certification and mounting of the sensor to the aircraft. GKN Aerospace were the first commercial customer for FAAM, who previously only worked with government and research institutions. 

The successful test flight has enthused members of the 3D printing and aerospace communities, and more flying of the probe on the FAAM aircraft has already been planned. 

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