Additive Manufacturing in the Aerospace Industry

With the potential that additive manufacturing offers, aerospace is a key industry which has already taken advantage of the technology and is expected to do so to an even greater degree moving forward.

Aerospace additive manufacturing offers huge advantages in the creation of components, with the ability to not just shorten the design process, but also to form shapes which were previously not possible with conventional methods.

Many companies in the aerospace industry are already using additive manufacturing in an increasing number of their designs. Here’s a look at their applications and the advantages offered in the field.

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Typical Applications

Although additive manufacturing is an exciting technology for many fields, the aerospace industry is seen as one of the key growth areas.

The ability to create complex shapes within one mould, with intricate internal dimensions and complex geometry, is one of the single biggest benefits.

Additive manufacturing allows engineers for the very first time to copy nature, and the strong yet intricate designs which were previously impossible to create have suddenly become a realistic possibility.

Engines and turbines work well with additive manufacturing processes, as it allows the production of small batches of components at a relatively low cost. Turbine blades, fuel systems and guide vanes or even parts which carry oil and water can be made using metal additive manufacturing techniques, such as metal printing. By comparison to conventional manufacturing, additive methods are very quick, flexible and economical.

Aerospace additive manufacturing used to create a 3D printed turbine

3D printed turbine

In addition to the functional parts of an engine, aerospace additive manufacturing used to create a 3D printed turbine additive manufacturing can be used to form the internal parts too. Air conditioning, belt buckles, heating elements and cockpit equipment can all be made using additive manufacturing, and many companies are opting to do some because of the lighter weights that can be achieved with these techniques.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are one of the most challenges items to produce because of the production costs involved in making prototypes and batches in such small volumes. Additive manufacturing works especially well in smaller quantities, and with the flexibility to change the designs quickly and easily, there’s none of the costs involved that traditional manufacturing invokes.

 

The Advantages of Aerospace Additive Manufacturing

There are a number of different advantages that aerospace additive manufacturing offers compared to more traditional types of design, engineering and manufacturing

Speed

The aerospace industry is a field where experimentation is common and there’s many prototypes constantly being produced and assessed. This results in a great need to be able to create and adapt models easily and quickly.

Delays in being able to get a model out into the field could result in a lag in getting into the market, and possibly losing a critical advantage against a competitor.

The sheer number of different prototypes and the regularity in which they are required means that additive manufacturing has some very real benefits. The design process is significantly shortened, and changing a model doesn’t require weeks of calculations and reconfiguring. Using the 3D computer programme, it’s simple to tweak a design as many times as needed. And with the seamless integration between design and the production, there’s no possibility of errors or misunderstandings occurring.

No Joining Required

One of the biggest challenges in engineering is how to create complex geometric shapes without compromising any of the strength.

If a component needs to be hollowed out inside, the shape typically needs to be made in separate parts and then joined together. Not only is this more time-consuming to create, and there’s more restrictions on what can be made, the end result is usually mot as strong, with weak spots at vulnerable joins.

 

The ability to create a single mould, including components with hollow centres, means that the parts are not just easier to manufacture, but also far stronger overall.

Lightweight

Aerospace additive manufacturing provides the means for parts to be created with different materials; this can result in a significant weight reduction which can go on to reduce costs as well.

 

Using laser sintering processes can result in a total weight reduction of between 40-60%, a very sizeable drop. This reduction in overall weight means that when in use, less fuel will be required, and there will also be a green effect too, with less carbon dioxide produced.

Tool-Less Production

Using additive manufacturing means there’s no need to stockpile high quantities of components, or buy in large numbers from suppliers. Companies that have this technology have the ability to produce modified parts and components on an as-required basis, meaning there’s no longer any need for large storage areas.

 

And as additive manufacturing can be run easily on very low volumes, there’s no problem with producing single components, one at a time.

Additive manufacturing will continue to be a sizeable asset to the aerospace industry with increasing uses in the future.

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