Christian Rice By Christian Rice • March 29, 2018

How Additive Manufacturing is Changing Aerospace

The aerospace industry is leading additive manufacturing (AM) adoption for parts production. And the earlier businesses implemented AM technology (as early as 30 years ago), the more significant innovation and supply chain efficiencies they’re experiencing today. But companies can still capitalize on today’s more mature landscape.

Higher functioning product development at lower cost with less material waste is changing production in aerospace technology. Allowing for low-volume, complex part production requirements, additive manufacturing is fundamental to engineering and supply chain strategy.

Developing and adopting leading edge technology is inherent to aerospace, including manufacturing methods such as industrial 3D printing. This empowers progressive aerospace operations to implement new production technologies to quickly streamlines operations. Other benefits to implementing AM are extensive.

 

8 Benefits of additive manufacturing in Aerospace

  1. Cost Savings from Additive Manufacturing (AM)

The main cost saving areas of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry include:

  • Increased fuel economy with lightweight, highly functional final products (each pound of airplane parts costs 14,000 gallons of fuel, annually).
  • Streamlined production workflows.
  • On-demand, real-time part production reduces inventory costs for spare parts and manufacturing tools.
  1. Speed-to-market

With additive manufacturing comes shorter development time and efficiency. This means quick prototyping and conceptual design review for validation. Materials scientists, design engineers and application engineers can cost-effectively and efficiently work together to:

  • Test multiple configurations and fine tune products to minimize production risks
  • Produce parts in real-time and on-demand to eliminate part inventory costs
  • Eliminate or reduce assembly time from months for traditional manufacturing to just weeks

Incorporating complex geometry production, additive manufacturing is far more flexible than limited traditional production methods. Reducing assembly and quality assurance costs, parts can be designed for optimum function as a single part. This is intrinsic to industrial 3D printing cost reduction and faster speed-to-market.

  1. Improved Functionality

Maximizing complex design performance is imperative for efficient additive manufacturing. Three-dimensional printing designs are optimized for topology and geometries. This is unlike traditional manufacturing designs such as casting, forging, milling, turning and welding, among others.

Even hard-to-shape aerospace materials, such as titanium Ti6AI4V and Inconel 718, maintain property strength in additive manufacturing. This is thanks to structural design geometries with optimal lattice structures, producing near-net shape parts, yielding functionality and strength higher than that of traditional manufacturing. 

Consolidated design reduces number of sub-components required while improving quality, especially important aerospace and aircraft components. And less moving pieces reduces production risks while improving reliability and durability. Aerospace companies also reduce assembly time, wasted material, logistic cost spent and design modification time.

  1. Lighter Weight, Improved Fuel Efficiency & Reduced Carbon Footprint

Complex geometries for aerospace components reduce weight by up to 40-60%. This is thanks in great part to the intrinsic lattice structure design, optimized for better, stronger and more efficient builds. For the aerospace industry in particular, this translates to greater fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 gas emissions.

Additive manufacturing directly impacts the aviation industry bottomline. In 2013, 35% of American Airlines’ spend was on fuel consumption. Decreasing one pound of weight from each commercial plane in a 600+ fleet can save 8,400,000 gallons annually. This translates to $58,800,000 in annual savings.

Reduced-weight additive-manufactured parts greatly diminish a plane’s lifetime fuel costs. These savings not only allow an airline to pass these savings onto the customer, it also allows for reduced carbon footprint. Additive manufacturing allows commercial airlines to maintain their competitive edge while helping the environment, a legal requirement in the majority of regulated industries.  

  1. Tooling Cost

Unlike CNC machining and other traditional production methods, additive manufacturing facilitates layer-by-layer part production. This requires less raw material and energy consumption than those traditional manufacturing operations.  

Because tooling isn’t required, most production cost is reserved for materials, design, labor and running the machines. Effectively, facility planners can focus on their product and optimize their supply chain operations. Moreover, this allows aerospace companies to easily print spare parts, make modifications and upgrades as needed.

  1. Small Production Runs

For certified vendors, obsolescence is a casualty everytime new technology is introduced to their market. And the aerospace industry requires highly customizable parts for the limited number of aircrafts produced per year.

With additive manufacturing, design engineers, application engineers and procurement can determine batch production requirements. This is why nesting multiple unique parts per machine, or design small production batches per several industrial 3D printers. More flexible, small-production runs for multipurpose production purposes simply make more financial sense.  

  1. Reduce Inventory Costs

The massive inventory costs aerospace companies incur hurts the bottomline. But where production used to take months it can now take a matter of weeks, thanks to 3D printing technology. Companies can now easily identify which industrial 3D printers are in close proximity for on-demand manufacturing. This effectively eliminates the need for part storage and- subsequently- all the costs involved.

  1. Less Capital for Scaled Economy  

Compared to traditional manufacturing, a single industrial 3D printer can simultaneously build several complex parts. There is also improved flexibility for more variable design and none of the traditional production tooling costs involved. This makes it easy for aerospace companies to build complex, highly customizable products with high production changeover seamlessly. Also unlike traditional manufacturing, for component building there’s no need to centralize this production.

 

How Additive Manufacturing is applied in the Aerospace Industry

Certifications

Custom materials built for the aerospace industry typically have to be certified by EN 9100:2009, as well as FAA regulations.

Where is 3D Printing Used In Aerospace?

At a blink of an eye, the evolution of industrial 3D printing has changed radically. Today, you can find industrial 3D printed parts in people, cars and planes. After years of research, parts and materials have been specially designed for planes include:

Popular aerospace materials include

  • ULTEM 9085
  • ULTEM 1010
  • Nylon FR
  • ALM FR-106
  • Titanium Ti64
  • Aluminum AISi10Mg
  • Inconel 718

Aerospace applications

Typical industrial 3D printing and additive manufacturing applications for aircraft includes engines, turbine parts, and cabin interior components.

  • Cabin vents
  • Baggage compartment pieces
  • Component connectors
  • Electrical housing
  • Plenums
  • Drain Fairings
  • Air Filter Boxes
  • Environmental Control System Ducting
  • Clips & Clamps
  • Custom cosmetic and decorative component
  • Display Shroud
  • Bezels
  • Storage bin dividers
  • Vent covers
  • Trim
  • Sensor housing
  • Interior door latch components
  • Camera adaptors
  • Turbine parts

Helicopters:

  • Vents
  • Brackets
  • Windshield Defogger
  • Duct Nozzles
  • Instrumental Housings and enclosures
  • Drain Fairings

UAV - unmanned aerial vehicles

  • Payload enclosures
  • Camera mount & gimbal
  • NACA duct
  • Wing Structure
  • Fuel Tank
  • Battery Compartment
  • Aileron & flaps
  • Sounds & closeouts
  • Fuselage structure
  • Oil tank

Machines that can do the job

  • EOS
  • Stratasys

For all different parts, the different production materials is growing on a regular basis. These include (but are not limited to) advanced additive manufacturing materials such as metal, polymer and composites. This is also in conjunction with improved industrial 3D printing technologies (SLS, EBM, etc.), access to AM talent (application engineers, design engineers) and AM software facilitating design and workflow efficiency.  

Learn more about how additive manufacturing is changing aerospace here