3D Printing Goes Beyond Parts Prototyping Parts in Aerospace

The aerospace industry is poised to be a significant user of 3D-printed parts in the next 10 years, according to a recent ABI Research report.

Source: PIxabay

Source: PIxabay

The trend in this direction is taking root now as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) greenlight more 3D-printed parts that will be used in commercial jet engines, according to ABI Research.

These organizations' interest comes as additive manufacturing (AM) specialists develop production-scale implementation innovations in other industries, and more cross-industry use cases pave the way for growth, the firm noted.

“Aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), hospitals, dentists, and their suppliers already benefit from practical 3D Printing use cases,” said Pierce Owen, principal analyst at ABI Research, in a statement. “Now, innovation from both established and new entry specialists will create more use cases in more industries on a scale not seen before. Even if AM does not make sense for mass production, distributed manufacturing platforms that provide access to 3D printers close to end users, will empower almost all manufacturers to explore using AM for replacement parts on-demand.”

Greater acceptance of 3D-printed parts and successful implementations represent a turn forward for enterprises and manufacturers. “Additive manufacturing is showing positive results,” said a recent State of 3D Printing report from Sculpteo.  “Indeed, 47% of the respondents saw a greater return on investment than last year. Moreover, 90% of them consider 3D Printing as a competitive advantage in their strategy.”

Source: The State of 3D Printing, Sculteo

Source: The State of 3D Printing, Sculteo

ABI Research's B2B technology survey found that 44% of manufacturing companies currently have 3D printers in operation. Most of these printers and parts, however, have been for prototyping purposes only.

The aerospace's move towards more widespread use of AM and 3D parts is expected to account for a significant portion of AM's growth in the next decade. The US aerospace and defense industries, based on their size and budgets, are expected to produce additive manufactured parts valued at $17.8 billion by 2026, according to the firm's estimates.

Suppliers are also gearing up for this predicted shift beyond prototyping. “Additive  manufacturing  holds  the  potential  to  revolutionize  manufacturing  and  supply  chains  by producing whole products and machines on-demand at the point of purchase (and in some cases at the  point  of  delivery  or  during  transit),  to  provide  high-quality  products  (with  the  potential  to personalize) at a better price point,” the ABI report said.

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GE Additive and GE Aviation, for instance, already provide 3D-printed fuel nozzles for the LEAP jet engines designed for the commercial aircraft of Airbus, Boeing and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), ABI Research pointed out.

Adoption is also being seen beyond the aerospace industry, particularly in the healthcare and footwear segments. In those sectors, 3D-printed parts have been proven to be effective in producing anatomical models for surgical planning and for mid-soles in thousands of shoes.

As AM gains traction and 3D-printed parts show up more frequently on bills of materials (BOMs) and purchase orders, there will be an increased need for various types of collaboration between product engineers, additive manufacturing specialists and supply chain managers.

“While certain industries have already embraced 3D Printing technology, to have widespread appeal, other sectors will have to redesign both products and supply chains with the help of AM engineering consultants and front-line workers, and AM specialists will have to build machines that work faster and cheaper,” Owen added.

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