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What Are The Advantages Of 3D Printing In Aerospace Manufacturing?

Aug 18, 2023Aug 18, 2023

Boeing expects to save $2 million to $3 million on each of its Boeing 787s through 3D-printed parts.

Recently, Simple Flying highlighted the weight savings of the General Electric GE9X engine as a result of the additive manufacturing (AM) techniques employed by the OEM. The company combined more than 300 engine parts into only seven through Computer Aided Design (CAD) and 3D Printing software that directs machines to deposit specialized material, layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes. The process repeats until the entire part is created.

Depending on the strength requirements, the parts must undergo extensive testing before being installed on the engines. Advanced AM technologies like electron beam melting (EBM) and direct metal laser melting (DMLM) drive much of the AM growth. These processes produce high-value parts and functional prototypes in aviation, aerospace, and beyond. This article discusses the applications and advantages of 3D printing in the aerospace industry.

3D printing is no longer a new or innovative technology in manufacturing. It has been extensively used in aerospace applications due to its advantages in simpler processes and weight savings. Commercial and military aircraft parts are manufactured at lower costs, faster lead times, and much lighter weights. The technology also allows OEMs to be more digitally flexible with their designs by manufacturing and testing several prototypes before finalizing the design.

Airbus Services subsidiary Satair 3D prints spare parts for the European manufacturer's A320 family aircraft. The 25-year-old A320 design can have metal-printed replacement parts certified for airworthiness compliance. The 3D-printed parts were used when the original supplier of the A320 wingtip fences had manufacturing issues.

Since the aircraft cannot be operated without the part, Satair switched the manufacturing process to the 3D printers, which resolved the problem and eliminated the risk of future shortages. Felix Hammerschmidt, the Head of Additive Manufacturing Solutions at Satair, said to Aviation Today,

"As there was an issue with the conventional supplier, there was a risk of a future supply shortage which could have led to the grounding of an aircraft. By switching the part to additive manufacturing, the issue was solved, and the supply is secured for decades to come."

The part is manufactured using titanium, a commonly used additive manufacturing material that has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to meet international airworthiness certification regulations.

Honeywell Aerospace, another leading aerospace manufacturer, uses 3D printing for flight-critical engine parts. These components house bearings in and around the hot sections of some Honeywell engines, including the ATF3-6 turbofans. One example of the use of those engines is on the Dassault Falcon 20G, used by the French Navy for patrol and search and rescue missions.

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GE Aviation used 3D printing techniques for various engine parts, including the compressor inlet temperature sensor housing of the GE90. Boeing aims to expand the use of additive manufacturing for various aircraft parts and assemblies. By using 3D printing to produce parts for its 787 Dreamliners, Boeing expects to save approximately $2 million to $3 million per aircraft.

What are your thoughts on the applications and advantages of 3D printing in aerospace manufacturing? Tell us in the comments section.

Writer - Omar is an aviation enthusiast who holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. With numerous years of technical and research experience under his belt, Omar aims to focus on research-based aviation practices. Apart from work, Omar has a passion for traveling, visiting aviation sites, and plane spotting. Based in Vancouver, Canada

What are your thoughts on the applications and advantages of 3D printing in aerospace manufacturing? Tell us in the comments section.