Aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is one of the earliest industries to adopt 3D printing technology, which can be traced back to 1989. Today, 30 years later, A&D accounts for 16.8% of the $10.4 billion additive manufacturing market, and has made great contributions to the ongoing research in the industry.
The development of AM within A&D is largely driven by major industry players, including GE, Airbus, Boeing, Safran and GKN. These and other companies have identified the value proposition of 3D printing:
- Functional prototype
- Tooling and Jigs
- Lightweight components
As we can see, 3D printing for aerospace is not limited to prototypes. Real functions are also printed in 3D and used in airplanes. Some parts that can be produced by 3D printing include air duct (SLS), wall panel (FDM) and even structural metal parts (DMLS, EBM, DED).
Advantages of 3D printing in aerospace and defense (A&D)
Small batch production
For aerospace and defense industries, the production of highly complex parts is very small. 3D printing is the ideal choice. With this technology, complex geometry can be created without expensive tools and equipment. This provides aviation OEMs and suppliers with a cost-effective way to produce small quantities of parts.
In addition to aerodynamics and engine performance, weight is one of the most important factors to be considered in aircraft design. Reducing the weight of aircraft can greatly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, fuel consumption and payload.
That’s where 3D printing comes in: this technology is the ideal solution for making lightweight parts, saving a lot of fuel. When combined with design optimization tools such as generative design software, the possibility of increasing the complexity of parts is almost unlimited.
Because the 3D printing process is realized by producing parts layer by layer, most materials are only used where they are needed. Therefore, it produces less waste than traditional subtraction.
The choice of 3D printable materials for aerospace and defense applications ranges from engineering grade thermoplastic (such as ULTEM 9085, ULTEM 1010, PAEK, reinforced nylon) to metal powder (high performance alloy, titanium, aluminum, stainless steel).
The range of available 3D printing materials continues to expand, opening up advanced aerospace applications.
One of the main advantages of 3D printing is component integration: the ability to integrate multiple components into a single component. By reducing the time required for assembly and the number of parts required, the assembly and maintenance process can be greatly simplified.
Maintenance and repair
The average life of aircraft can be between 20 and 30 years. As a result, it makes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) an important function of the industry. Metal 3D printing technologies such as direct energy deposition are often used to repair aerospace and military equipment. Turbine blades and other high-end equipment can also be repaired by adding materials to worn surfaces.