Why Is The Aircraft Industry Using 3D Printing?


While as of the time of writing, the air
travel industry is facing significant difficulties in the face of
pandemic-driven reductions in flights, for many years aircraft have been
proving one of the fastest-growing applications for 3D printing around the world.
We expect that air travel will resume in the not-too-distant future — and that
will see demand for state-of-the-art aircraft on the rise. Some manufacturers
may even be using this unanticipated downtime to revamp their fleets, building
up digital inventories to supply aging aircraft and using advanced
manufacturing technologies to create the next generations of aircraft.

Let’s dive in to find out just why the
aircraft industry is using 3D printing.

A Fit
For 3D Printing

Aerospace is a unique fit for many of the
most-touted benefits of 3D printing:

Part consolidation
Lightweighting
Complex geometries (“freedom of design”)
Rapid prototyping
Low-volume production
Digital inventory

Let’s look at each of these areas to see how
the production of aircraft can make use of these benefits.

Part
Consolidation

The weakest point in an assembly is where it
has been, well, assembled. When it comes to aircraft, such a weakness could
become a point of critical failure, endangering human lives.

By consolidating multiple components of a part
into a single 3D printed build, the number of assembly points is necessarily
reduced. The unique geometries possible with 3D printing can reduce a part that
typically has dozens or hundreds of parts to few — or to one single part. With
no welding, riveting, or other fastening needed to keep the part together, not
only are SKUs reduced, but so too are potential points of failure.

Lightweighting

Every ounce of weight matters when it comes to
equipment meant to fly. Lighter-weight parts means less fuel, improving not
only the carbon footprint of a flight but also the cost to fly.

Materials innovations in 3D printing are
seeing constant improvements in different metals and polymers approved for use
in different equipment. Many of these engineering-grade materials are familiar
to those who have worked with them in traditional manufacturing — translating
these formulations into 3D printable materials is bringing their capabilities
together with part consolidation and other time- and material-reducing benefits
to create altogether lighter final parts.

Freedom
of Design

Many working with design for additive
manufacturing (DfAM) like to proclaim that the technology offers great “freedom
of design,” as complex geometries impossible to make with other manufacturing
processes are for the first time possible....

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