3DPRINTING IN AEROSPACE
Since the Wright brothers first launched their wood and canvas glider in the early 1900s, technology has improved dramatically, making international travel and space exploration a reality. Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, is playing a major role in this revolution by reducing weight, strengthening materials and streamlining design in the aerospace industry.
3D Printing in Aerospace
The aerospace industry includes a range of commercial, industrial and military applications, and is comprised of departments that design, manufacture, operate and maintain the aircraft or spacecraft. Among the first advocates of 3D printing, the airline industry is a driving force in the evolution of this technology for both manufacturing end-use parts and prototyping. Airlines depend on 3D printing to alleviate supply chain constraints, limit warehouse space and reduce wasted materials from traditional manufacturing processes. Rapidly producing aircraft parts on demand saves enormous amounts of space, time and money.
In fact, minimizing weight is the number one way that aerospace manufacturing companies save money because weight affects an aircraft’s payload, fuel consumption, emissions, speed and even safety. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, such as CNC where material is removed to create a part, Stratasys FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printers create parts from the base up, layer-by-layer, allowing complex geometries and streamlined designs with less overall components. This all translates to reduced weight in the air. Since you are adding material rather than removing material, this process also drastically reduces waste during manufacturing. Air ducts, wall panels, seat frameworks and even engine components have all benefited from reduced weight enabled by 3D printing.
The Future of 3D Printing in Aerospace
NASA and Airbus are just a few examples of how major organizations are turning to 3D printing to solve complex engineering problems and create specialized parts. But what is next on the horizon for 3D printing in aerospace? We’re glad you asked.
As metal 3D printing advances, we predict vital components of both domestic aircrafts and spaceships will adopt additive manufacturing methods using custom alloys and high-end lightweight thermoplastics. Companies like Boeing are already investing in metal 3D printing companies, like Desktop Metal with the hopes of utilizing these new technologies for research and development as well as end-use-parts for aircraft. With expanding capabilities, 3D printing will be an even more practical solution for aerospace manufacturing.
As if 3D printing on the ground isn’t high tech enough, additive technologies are also being tested in space. NASA even foresees future spacecrafts coming equipped with 3D printers, so scientists can send astronauts digital CADD files to be printed. The ability to create unforeseen tools on a space mission is game changing.
3D PRINTING BENEFITS IN AEROSPACE