Innovations in the aerospace industry have been seeing huge strives when it comes to 3D printing. Aerospace companies and organizations from around the globe are using 3D printing for both prototyping and end-use parts. These applications have been ramping up for years — and now we’re looking ahead to the future of 3D printing in aerospace .
3D Printing Today
Aerospace is a unique fit for 3D printing, offering a prime application area for many of the benefits of additive manufacturing technologies . Among these benefits are:
Complex geometries (“freedom of design”)
Leveraging these benefits is proving
transformative for aerospace manufacturing as today’s aircraft, rockets, and
other commercial, private, and military aerospace builds are increasingly able
to perform better than ever before. Fewer, lighter parts mean fewer assembly
points that could be a potential weakness as well as a lighter weight
structure, enhancing fuel efficiency and load capabilities.
Aerospace has long been a ‘city on a hill’ for
additive manufacturing, offering highly visible proof points of the
technology’s high-flying potential to very literally fly high.
Like in the automotive industry, many
aerospace entities have been using 3D printing internally for years, if not
decades. Also like the automotive industry, though, many companies have seen
the technology as a competitive advantage best kept somewhat under wraps. This
has perhaps benefited these companies’ bottom lines — but it has limited the
visibility of these applications.
The GE fuel nozzle — which famously reduced from approximately 20 welded pieces into one 3D printed (and 25% lighter weight) piece — was among one of the highest-profile individual applications to be publicly shared. Such use cases are only ramping up; between 2015 and 2018, for example, GE 3D printed 30,000 of those fuel nozzles. Still, though, these examples are often heard over and over again because many other specific use cases are still seen as proprietary ‘secret sauce’ and not public knowledge.
The cat’s out of the bag by now, though, and
it’s almost an assumption that any aerospace company is in some way utilizing
3D printing in its operations.
From SpaceX and NASA to Boeing and Airbus,
this is certainly the case. These companies are among the highest-profile in
aerospace to share at least some look into their 3D printing usage.
Applications range from visible cabin components in passenger airplanes to
made-in-space tools on the International Space Station, with both mission
critical and aesthetic uses well represented.
The secrecy of ‘secret sauce’ is slowly