The Future of 3D Printing in Aerospace

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The Future of 3D Printing in Aerospace

Postby 3dtech » Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:34 pm

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.

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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 a somewhat nerdy by-product of working in an industry that looks at manufacturing the world differently, I too find myself often viewing the world through an additive lens. Perhaps the place I do this most is when traveling on an airplane where I tend to scour the cabin for places where additive manufacturing (AM) could be present someday soon.

The lifespan of an aircraft, typically between 20 and 30 years, makes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and retrofit, both big and necessary businesses. Think of every plane you've been on in the last few years that still featured a now-defunct charging socket from the 1980s - aircraft are not changing overnight to keep up-to-date with consumer expectations. However, Airbus' Global Market Forecast projects that over the next 20 years the commercial aircraft upgrades services market will be worth 180 billion USD.

According to a variety of market reports, aerospace accounts for roughly 20% of the AM market. It offers numerous benefits to the sector; part consolidation, reduced inventory, on-demand manufacturing, light-weighting reduced costs and fuel consumption. For replacement parts where timescales are tight, and downtime must be kept to a minimum, speed of delivery can be a game-changer.

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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.

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