3D printing has brought new and unique opportunities to the aviation industry. Thanks to the technology, the tasks of developing and implementing new systems in the industry have become easier.
Previously, to create a working prototype, companies needed production facilities with equipment for manufacturing of a small number of parts. This is time-consuming and expensive. Today, an industrial 3D printer, like the Creatbot 1100, copes with such tasks easily. Therefore, players in the aviation industry can produce high-precision parts without relying on technological processes such as casting, stamping and milling.
Benefits of 3D Printing for Aviation
3D printing has many benefits, both for the aircraft industry and other manufacturing areas. The benefits include:
- Reduced time spent. Printing on a 3D printer takes less time than traditional production, especially if you need to make a part in a single copy
- Printing complex-geometry parts and the ability to manufacture solid products that were previously manufactured in composite
- Finished parts turn out to be lighter, thanks to the peculiarities of production and the use of new materials. Light parts are important for the industry
- Reducing waste by 70-95%
Other benefits include replacing modern CNC equipment with an industrial 3D printer, and abandoning manual welding, casting, and the use of milling. These processes are uneconomical in terms of their consumption of raw materials. When eliminated, companies can save time and use material resources more efficiently.
A 3D printer operates in automatic mode and can be operated almost 24 hours a day. Moreover, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.
Pioneers of 3D Printing in Aviation
The first company to use 3D printing technology in aircraft construction was GE Aviation. The leading supplier of jet and turboprop engines for military and business aviation invests more than $ 1 billion annually in the development of new technologies. Therefore, the introduction of 3D printing for GE Aviation was logical.
The company’s engineers use industrial 3D printers to manufacture parts through a combination of alloys. This improves the physical and technical characteristics of the part, something that was not possible with casting.
3D printing has led to a new approach in the manufacture of nozzles. This complex functional unit was previously assembled from two dozen elements, each of which was manufactured separately. Now, a metal 3D printer can do all the work in one pass. This helps the company save on time, materials and money. The injectors manufactured in this way are certified and the technology is increasingly being used in manufacturing aircraft parts.
Airbus also uses 3D printing in aircraft construction. Engineers from Hamburg have designed and manufactured a drone, which is 90% made up of parts printed on an industrial 3D printer. The traditional method used in the making of this aircraft was only the electronics and the remote control module, i.e. what the technology of volumetric printing cannot yet master.
The four-meter aircraft was named Thor and successfully completed its first mission. It took off without any problems, flew without stopping 40 km from Hamburg to Stad and landed at the Airbus plant. Now engineers are planning to create a new one-piece drone based on this model and launch it into mass production.
3D printing is already used to produce various parts of Airbus aircraft. For example, A350 liners are assembled using titanium powder-printed brackets. Also, more than 1000 different laser sintered parts are currently being tested for other aircraft models. Most of them are interior elements, but even their successful implementation will significantly reduce the production cost.
3D printing will significantly change the concept of aircraft production. In the past, parts were made in one place and then transported to assembly or repair place. Today, the parts can be made exactly where they are needed.
An industrial 3D printer takes up relatively little space and replaces an entire production complex. It does not require time-consuming readjustments to manufacture various parts. Therefore, it’s an ideal equipment for off-series production.
Challenges of 3D Printing Technology
Despite the many advantages of 3D printing, there are a number of challenges that prevent its full implementation in aircraft construction. For example, industrial metal 3D printers are expensive, usually costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moreover, the materials used for 3D printing are expensive than traditional ones.
While 3D printers can lead to savings of 70-95% during manufacturing, many parts are still more expensive to produce on a printer. In addition, in terms of the speed of making simple forms, 3D printing is slower than stamping.
Hence, we can conclude that 3D printing in aviation industry is still in its infancy stages. Today, both manufacturers of industrial printers and engineers in the aircraft industry are working on finding optimal solutions for their projects.
Will a breakthrough be made? Only time will tell.