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3D Printing and Aerospace Technology: Going the Distance

The impact of 3D printing on the aerospace industry

3D Printing and Aerospace Technology: Going the Distance

The impact of 3D printing on the aerospace industry is hard to overstate. While the average consumer may not be very interested in buying a 3D printer for their home, major manufacturers and industries are taking a different route. These companies see 3D printing as a way to reduce the cost of production, improve existing technologies, and make new advancements. There is a real belief that an improvement and evolution in 3D printing technology will have a massive impact on the future of the aerospace industry.

3D printing is now responsible for the manufacturing of complex engine parts, cabin interior parts, and much more. The aerospace industry can use 3D printing to create parts that perform better, cost less and require less time to put together, and then use those parts on commercial aircraft. Many parts are also being designed with the space industry in mind.

Satellite Antenna Bracket, Customer: Thales Alenia

Lower Material Weight

One of the major reasons why 3D printing is such a revelation for the aerospace industry is because of how it allows for the reduction in material weight. Aerospace companies are always looking to lower material weight, because it can help a plane perform at the same level while using less fuel. So long as those materials maintain their strength and structural integrity, the lower weight is a huge bonus. Studies show that by using close to 1000 3D printed parts, the Airbus A350 XWB is consuming roughly 25% less fuel than before.

Consolidating Parts

3D printing results in additive manufacturing, which means that one layer of material is deposited on another. That allows for the consolidation of many parts into a single component. That results in a much simpler assembly, which reduces the operations and tooling costs for aerospace companies. It also means that more complex parts need much less time for manufacturing.

Better Part Performance

It was less than ten years ago when the very idea of 3D printed parts on an airplane was absurd to anyone. However, 3D printing is now giving engineers and designers the freedom to create complex part designs that deliver better performance. There is no restriction associated with the creation of these parts, because traditional manufacturing is not being used. With 3D printing, it is so much easier to test a complex part, and create another copy if the first model does not work out.

Companies can now come up with innovative ideas, test those parts, and come up with alternatives if they are not successful. This work is done in days and weeks, as compared to months. For instance, the space company SpaceX is using 3D printing to design a high-performance rocket part that would go on its Falcon 9 rocket. As compared to the part that was manufactured traditionally, the 3D printed part is said to be stronger and more ductile. It is also much easier for SpaceX to make adjustments to the 3D printed part if something does not work with their tests.

Virtual Warehouses

Aerospace companies can drastically reduce the cost of warehouse management. 3D printers mean that parts are manufactured much faster, and on a “per order” basis. There is a much lower need for physical inventories, spare parts and massive manufacturing machines. It also means that delivery of parts takes less time, and logistics costs are lower. Instead of having to set up manufacturing and warehousing locations in other states, aerospace companies can have the whole process setup in a single location.
3D printing has already revolutionized the aerospace industry, and it is only getting started. More changes are expected in the future, as the technology improves, and aerospace companies better adjust to the technology.

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