Aviation is highly regarded as a pioneering and innovative industry, always looking for ways to continuously improve performance, reduce costs and the environmental impact by adopting new manufacturing technologies and materials.
Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing is one of the latest processes proliferating the aerospace world as engineers begin to discover numerous ways the technology can be applied in the creation of aircraft parts.
Complex designs and structures can be formed as one single lightweight component. This in turn reduces overall aircraft weight, boosting fuel efficiency and construction productivity whilst minimizing costs.
With manufacturers already looking to invest further in exploring and implementing this technology, Additive Manufacturing has the potential to revolutionise the way aircraft are made.
Countless design possibilities with minimal parts
Additive manufacturing ‘grows’ parts from CAD files by layering up materials using laser or electron beams to form one solid object. The process enables complex designs to be produced which would not have been possible through traditional methods.
This also reduces the number of parts a component is made up of, sometimes even simplifying it down just to one solid part which creates less weight. GE Aviation recently redesigned a fuel nozzle for the LEAP engine made of one solid part instead of 18, making it 25% lighter.
Less weight, less fuel, less waste
Less weight of course means less fuel consumption. Even the smallest changes to weight in aircraft manufacture can lead to big fuel savings, especially in larger aircraft. A study from Northwestern University in Illinois found that printed parts can reduce aircraft weight by up to 7% and reduce fuel consumption by up to 6.4%.
Additive Manufacturing also reduces waste as it only produces only enough material to create the part, saving thousands of tons of aluminium, titanium and nickel.
Design and production efficiency.
Efficiencies are created during the production process by fabricating parts in one go which can be printed in-house or at a local manufacturing centre as per demand, reducing the need to weld separate pieces of metal together.
This also leads to costs savings in storage and transportation as the supply chain becomes more localised while also helping reduce the carbon footprint.
This efficiency in part manufacturing was really where the relationship between the aviation industry and Additive Manufacturing began. Engineers saw the potential to quickly produce prototypes when at the testing stage. After a while it became apparent that these prototype parts were strong enough to also be used in production.
According to the engineers at GE Aviation it would have taken a year longer to design the new fuel nozzle prototype using conventional methods.
At AirBus the new A350 XWB was able to meet its tight production deadlines by using Additive Manufacturing to print over 1000 parts.
“Our additive manufacturing solutions can produce complex parts on-demand, ensuring on time delivery while streamlining supply chains.” Dan Yalon, Executive Vice President, Business Development, Marketing & Vertical Solutions for Stratasys
With the versatility Additive Manufacturing has to offer we are currently seeing only a glimpse of its potential applications within the aviation industry. The incredible skeletal structures that can be created could well revolutionise future aircraft design. With more organisations already adapting their maintenance facilities to include 3D printing machines, manufactures and the supply chain will need to quickly adapt to cope with this step change in production and design.
ELMS Aviation, is an Aerospace industry management and competency tool for more information subscribe to our email newsletter.