When engineering new designs it’s beneficial to be able to iterate quickly, producing multiple prototypes to test and address design challenges. 3D printing enables this process to be carried out rapidly and cost effectively. Engineers have more freedom to create designs with complex internal structures and geometries that would not be able to be produced with traditional manufacturing methods. Aerospace companies are taking advantage of these benefits by utilising 3D printing technology to reduce development costs and minimise product lead times.
3D printing allows parts to be produced with hollow structures and previously impossible geometry in order for Aerospace engineers to keep weight to a minimum while maintaining strength requirements. Designers can communicate their ideas clearly and easily by producing prototypes earlier in the design process. Having a tactile object to hold and inspect is invaluable when validating design decisions. The development in printing technology, and especially printing materials, means that functional prototypes and end-use parts can now be produced more quickly and easier than ever.
The value proposition for additive manufacturing in the Aerospace industry is clear – The ability to create parts that are both stronger and lighter than those made with traditional manufacturing methods. This is one of the reasons that Aerospace was among the first industries to adopt 3D printing methods and is still one of the largest drivers of the technology today.
A Selection of 3D printing applications in Aerospace
Jigs & Fixtures
For each aircraft designed and built, there are hundreds of different fixtures, guides, tools and jigs created to standardise and assist the production process. Companies have boasted 60 to 90 percent reductions in cost and lead time for producing these with 3D printing when compared to using traditional manufacturing processes.
Surrogate parts are used as placeholders throughout the production process, they are inserted into assemblies to represent components that will be installed later. 3D printing offers a fast and cost-effective way of producing these surrogate parts.
The strength to weight ratio of parts manufactured using printing methods such as DMLS and SLM makes them ideal for low-volume structural brackets that are used to mount parts to the interior walls of planes.
High quality visual prototypes enable designers to communicate design features as well as test form and fit for a wide range of components, from door handles to dashboards. The speed at which designs can be iterated allows for more prototyping, testing, analysis and refining during development.
Consolidations & Simplification of Multi-Part Assemblies
The ability to fully utilise ‘Design for 3D printing’ allows engineers to consolidate multi-body assemblies into single parts. This doesn’t just reduce overall complexity, it often negates additional quality control processes, reduces weight and minimises the amount of inventory required.