The aerospace and commercial aviation community was one of the first to wholeheartedly embrace modern additive manufacturing advances and is still pushing the envelope of the AM industry as the technologies move ever forward.
As additive manufacturing has progressed from primarily prototyping to more production-ready fabrication, the aerospace industry has been first in line. By employing modern additive manufacturing, the aerospace industry has been able to break existing design and manufacturing limitations progressing beyond the status quo without raising costs considerably.
Today, aerospace accounts for more than 10% of the $2.2 billion global additive manufacturing revenue. Aircraft manufacturers can now create complex geometries impossible or too costly to build any other way. They can reduce part weight with new design techniques or material choices. They can realize both economies of scale and efficiencies across multiple lines of business. Here are four key ways aerospace designers and engineers can harness the latest additive manufacturing advances and take full advantage of the benefits:
1. Testing and Functional Design Iterations
Modern additive manufacturing materials and methods can accurately replicate fit, form, function and strength in a prototype suitable for performance testing at a fraction of the price of production pieces. For example, ProtoCAM has produced prototypes that simulate an ice-covered wing for aerodynamics testing. AM can also be used to produce relatively affordable functional prototypes at various key points in an iterative design process, accelerating and improving design cycles and getting a project from concept to market quicker.
2. Surrogate and Replacement Parts
Specialized parts are not always available on short notice. When a part breaks, it can take months to get a new one. Both the US Army and NASA rely on mobile AM labs in some capacity to produce replacement parts quickly and efficiently to reduce downtime. Commercial operations can also benefit from identifying where approved additive manufactured pieces could be used in place of expensive out-of-production parts. Additionally, additive manufactured surrogate parts can replace high-value production parts in technician and operator training programs.
3. Specialty Parts for Maximum Performance
Additive manufacturing has been heralded as the key to unlocking new achievements in industry, particularly aerospace. More flexible design and manufacturing capabilities have allowed engineers to create parts with internal cavities, lattice formations or fewer pieces to reduce weight without sacrificing strength with the goal of improving speed and fuel efficiency. Complex and innovative geometries can optimize airflow over a wing or fluid flow through a cooling channel, thereby boosting performance.
4. Production Efficiencies
Time-to-market design and manufacturing efficiencies, the ability to achieve proximity production, waste reduction and less expensive non-avionic part production are all distinct benefits of additive manufacturing. Many aerospace materials are incredibly expensive and, with a scrap rate of 80-90 percent, waste can make up a huge percentage of part cost. Additive manufacturing can reduce scrap rates to just 10-20 percent.
Aerospace and aviation manufacturers are also realizing cost savings by replacing interior parts such as air ducts, panel covers, grates, mounting hardware, latches and clips with much less expensive additive manufactured pieces. For example, ProtoCAM has worked on everything from instrument covers for military avionics to toilet seats for a private jet manufacturer.
ProtoCAM’s engineers have experience working with aerospace, defense and commercial aviation design and manufacturing companies to determine the best modern additive manufacturing tools and techniques for their jobs. Get your quote today.